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Cattle rancher worries as northern Alberta vet clinic reduces services

Cattle ranchers in High Prairie, Alta., are worried about adequate access to vet services after the town’s only vet clinic announced in July it would close.  (Rachel Maclean/CBC - image credit)
Cattle ranchers in High Prairie, Alta., are worried about adequate access to vet services after the town’s only vet clinic announced in July it would close. (Rachel Maclean/CBC - image credit)

Cattle operator Dan Bloomfield wasn't surprised when he learned High Prairie Veterinary Services was at risk of winding down operations.

"For at least the last year, maybe more, [with] the service they've provided, they might as well have been closed," he said.

Bloomfield says he and other livestock producers in High Prairie, 370 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, are concerned about getting adequate access to veterinary services.

The town's only vet clinic, High Prairie Veterinary Services, announced in July it would close on July 28.

The clinic, owned by Calgary-based Mosaic Veterinary Partners, didn't cite a reason for the closure, but acknowledged it would "present challenges to our clients."

It offered help to clients, such as transferring pet and livestock records to nearby clinics.

Despite the announcement, the clinic didn't close at the end of July.

High Prairie Veterinary Services, owned by Calgary-based corporation Mosaic Veterinary Partners, announced on Facebook it would close on July 28, but later reversed the decision, saying it would be “restructuring" its services.
High Prairie Veterinary Services, owned by Calgary-based corporation Mosaic Veterinary Partners, announced on Facebook it would close on July 28, but later reversed the decision, saying it would be “restructuring" its services.

High Prairie Veterinary Services, owned by Calgary-based Mosaic Veterinary Partners, announced on Facebook it would close on July 28, but later reversed the decision, saying it would be “restructuring" its services. (High Prairie Veterinary Services/Facebook)

On the day of closure, High Prairie Veterinary Services posted on Facebook that it would be "restructuring."

The clinic has since posted new, limited hours online. It has also posted notices informing clients about when there won't be a veterinarian on-site.

Bloomfield has up to 125 head of cattle on his ranch 35 km southwest of High Prairie. He's been ranching there since 1992 and said vet access has slowly gone downhill since Mosaic Veterinary Partners took over the town's clinic in 2017.

He said he is one of many residents who have had challenges getting livestock seen by a vet. He now brings his animals to a clinic in Valleyview, roughly one hour away.

"Since this new outfit took over, it has not been good," said Bloomfield.

Extra travel time can be crucial when it comes to sick animals, he said. He said he has lost a couple of animals when he couldn't access a vet. Losing livestock means losing income, he said.

Bloomfield also said redirecting High Prairie residents to clinics in Peace River or Valleyview could overwhelm those areas.

"When you overload one clinic, they can only do so much, right?"

Dr. Jonathan Leicht is the CEO of Mosaic Veterinary Partners. He said his company has struggled to provide services in High Prairie, citing difficulty with recruiting and retaining staff.
Dr. Jonathan Leicht is the CEO of Mosaic Veterinary Partners. He said his company has struggled to provide services in High Prairie, citing difficulty with recruiting and retaining staff.

Dr. Jonathan Leicht is CEO of Mosaic Veterinary Partners. He said his company has struggled to provide services in High Prairie, citing difficulty with recruiting and retaining staff. (Submitted by Mosaic Veterinary Partners)

Dr. Jonathan Leicht, CEO of Mosaic Veterinary Partners, told CBC News that his company has struggled to provide services in High Prairie, citing difficulty with recruiting and retaining staff.

He said the company is looking at options to continue services in High Prairie, but that all available options in the area have been looked at.

"We came to a point where we needed to look at the reorganization as being best for both our team, who's already short-staffed, and our business that has been running at a negative over the past couple of years," he said.

"Our goal is to sustain veterinary services in the community. Whether that is ourselves, or another individual that comes into the community, we're looking at all options."

Leicht said Mosaic, which owns seven other clinics in Alberta and Saskatchewan, wants to serve rural communities, so the company experimented with moving staff to accommodate shortages in problem areas.

The strategy, he said, did cause backlogs at Mosaic's other clinics.

The ongoing closures of rural vet clinics signal that the overall state of the industry remains in crisis, according to the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association's former president Dr. Daren Mandrusiak.

He said rural veterinary medicine has struggled with staff shortages for decades, which he believes was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, because more vets moved from rural areas to urban centres like Edmonton.

Mandrusiak worries about how it may affect recruitment, despite investments made by the Alberta government in 2022 to boost enrolment of the province's only veterinary medicine program at the University of Calgary.

"It's hard because we're recruiting from areas where there are not necessarily more vets and we're trying to bring them into [positions] that they can't fill in their own home provinces or home countries, so it doesn't help," he said.

Figures provided by the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association from July 2022 suggested there were more than 840 job vacancies across the province.

While he believes providing more funding to the University of Calgary's veterinary medicine program is a good start, Mandrusiak doesn't think it will be enough to fix the problem.

The isn't necessarily a lack of interest in veterinary care, he said, but there are issues around resourcing these programs with teaching staff.

As for Dan Bloomfield, he wants to see a couple of on-call vets designated during peak times, like the calving season in January. But he said he's lost faith in Mosaic and feels the company "dropped the ball."

"Hopefully somebody will come along and buy it and provide the service they need."