Community rallies around vet given her walking papers

Keri Hudson-Reykdal is fighting to keep her job and 
already has over 500 signatures in petition of support

The Ashern & Area Veterinary Board’s decision not to renew a popular local veterinarian’s annual contract has triggered an outpouring of support and calls for the decision to be rescinded.

Dr. Keri Hudson-Reykdal — who has provided her services to the local community for 12 years, married a local third-generation rancher, and put down roots in the area — said that she felt “blindsided.”

“They didn’t discuss anything before,” said Hudson-Reykdal. “They just sent this letter.”

The one-sentence letter stating her contract will not be renewed in 2013 arrived in her mailbox about three weeks ago.

She immediately sought out a vet board member, who told her that the decision came after an in-camera discussion and that no further explanation would be forthcoming.

Repeated calls to Ashern vet board members for comment went unanswered.

“Everybody is shocked,” said Charlene Kaartinen, a rancher from nearby Eriksdale, who often uses the services and supplies offered by the thriving Ashern clinic, even though Lundar is closer to her farm.

After receiving the termination notice, Hudson-Reykdal launched a petition drive. In seven days, she collected 575 signatures, along with 31 letters from clients and neighbouring veterinary colleagues in support of her efforts to keep her job at the government-owned clinic in Ashern.

In late June, she presented her petition to the council of the RM of Grahamdale, which agreed to take her presentation under advisement.

Partial funding

Provincially owned clinics are funded by a $10,000 annual grant from each RM they serve, with a matching payment made by the province.

The rest of the cost of running the clinic, which has two full-time staff besides herself, along with one part-time and occasional student helper, comes out of fees generated by the practice, said Hudson-Reykdal.

Maintenance of the grounds and equipment amounts to at least $1,500 per month, she added.

Hudson-Reykdal said that while she doesn’t know why her contract would be suddenly cancelled, she suspects that a personal conflict with vet board members or “coffee shop gossip” might be at play.

If the move is part of a cost-saving plan to close the clinic, she said she would be willing to buy the operation and run it privately. She also ruled out fees as an issue, noting the province sets a maximum charge for services.

“As a rule, I charge well below the maximum fee schedule,” said Hudson-Reykdal.

She described the past three weeks as a “virtual hell,” and said the decision shows a lack of respect for her hard work and commitment to the community.

Vets in demand

The issue also puzzles others.

Veterinarians willing to work in the Interlake’s cattle country are hard to find, said Robert Green, chair of the nearby Fisher Branch RM’s vet board.

That’s mainly because the hours are long, the pay is low compared to big-city practice, and calving season sees them work virtually 24-7, he said.

“They are in high demand, yes, especially during calving season,” said Green. “That’s the problem.”

After a number of years of being without a vet for their clinic in Fisher Branch, Green said his board has managed to secure a part-time vet, and is actively pursuing new graduates in hopes of acquiring a full-time practitioner. He predicted the Ashern board will rescind its decision.

Randy Geisler, who raises 2,000 head of cattle near Ashern, described Hudson-Reykdal as a “very good vet,” and wonders why the board is showing her the door, given the difficulty in finding veterinarians willing to work in the Interlake.

“None of us has been given a reason,” said Geisler. “That should be addressed.”

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