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Thompson veterinarian could close up shop due to lack of qualified staff

North of 55 Veterinary Services will stop providing blood tests and x-rays as of Jan. 31 and could close down entirely by June, say letters to customers and council.
Dr. Keri Hudson Reykdal in the North of 55 Veterinary Services clinic reception area in a Dec. 6 photo posted on the business’s Facebook page to celebrate one year of operations at that location. The veterinarian says that, unless action is taken, her clinic will stop providing blood tests and x-rays at the end of January and subsequently close entirely by June of this year.

For the second time in just a few years, Thompson pet owners and animal care organizations are facing the prospect of not having a local veterinarian unless solutions are found quickly.

Dr. Keri Hudson Reykdal, the owner of North of 55 Veterinary Services in Thompson and the only practising vet in the Northern Manitoba city, said in a Jan. 15 letter to customers that the toll of running her clinic without another veterinarian or any registered veterinary technicians is taking a toll on her and she is punting the ball into the community’s hands in hopes of finding a sustainable long-term solution.

Hudson Reykdal first started coming to Thompson in 2021 after the city’s previous vet service provider, the Thompson Veterinary Clinic, stopped seeing customers. At first, Hudson Reykdal came to Thompson for brief periods of a week or so to provide vital animal health services. Later, after hiring a Thompson-raised veterinarian to work alongside her, she bought the Hayes Road building that her clinic is now based in as well as a home to live in while she was getting the clinic up and running, expecting to be able to return to her home and family in Ashern after a year or so, leaving the practice in the hands of her colleague.

However, she says, that veterinarian, who said they wanted to live and practice in Thompson for at least five years, left after less than a year, as did RVTs who were working at the practice. Hudson Reykdal says part of the reason for the staff turnover was having too few resources to serve the busy Thompson and Northern Manitoba market for vet services, which led to a lack of work-life balance. She herself is experiencing the same thing as a result of trying to keep the business alive by taking on responsibilities that should be spread amongst a half-a-dozen or so people.

“When I came to Thompson, I did not plan to be here permanently full time,” she told her customers. “I have a home, a husband, animals and a family farm in Ashern. My intention was to help the community, provide support to a new vet and be here on a part-time basis. Obviously, that is not how things have gone. The demands of my work here in Thompson are wearing on me mentally and physically.  I miss my husband, I miss my family, I miss my home.”

When North of 55 opened, Hudson Reykdal signed a contract with Idexx, a veterinary pet care company that provides equipment at no cost in exchange for meeting contractual obligations. The company has agreed to let her out of her seven-year contract five years early without any financial obligation as of Jan. 31 but she says it would be better for Thompson to find someone to take the contract on, as it would be cheaper than signing a new contract and getting the equipment shipped her later.

The vet clinic does blood tests on four to 10 animals per day and x-rays several times a week, she says. But if no person or organization steps forward to foot the cost of the contract until May 2028, Hudson Reykdal says the equipment will be returned. As it stands, no blood tests or x-ray will be available for pets as of two weeks from now, which means Thompson pet owners and those from outlying communities will have to travel hundreds of kilometres when such work is required.

 “We will be unable to diagnose serious conditions including advanced heart disease, pancreatitis, foreign bodies, kidney disease, liver disease etc. in a timely fashion,” she said in a letter to customers. “It is imperative that there is access to in-house veterinary lab equipment in Thompson, but I am not willing to be responsible for the contract for another 5 years.”

If no person or organization can take over the contract, Hudson-Ryekdal says she will provide only limited veterinary services until June of this year, at which point she will shut down her clinic.

Oswald Sawh, board chair of the Thompson Humane Society and one of its founding members, said that while having a local veterinarian to provide vaccinations and spaying and neutering services for animals being adopted out is nice, having vet services at times of emergency is vital.

“If you were to ask me my biggest fear, it’s that when you have those injured animals and they die because we cannot access that here right away,” he said in a phone call Jan. 17.

Lack of local vet services would also make it more difficult to find people willing to adopt animals which would lead to more being shipped to other humane societies down south, where at least Sawh knows they would have access tho the health care they need during their lives with their new owners.

A veterinary clinic is viable in Thompson with no worries about a lack of business, but Hudson Reykdal says the only way to make it viable in the long-term is through other forms of community support as well, and making that a reality is a job she feels is better left to people with a long-term stake in the community.

“I came here to help the community but at the end of the day, this is not my fight,” she wrote. “Thompson is not my home. I have invested my time, energy, passion and dedication, I’ve  bought a home, built a fully equipped vet clinic — trying to help the community. But I am worn out after two years of giving everything I have. Veterinary services in this northern community need investment from the community to be sustainable and provide long term reliable access to veterinary care.” 

She says she reached out to Thompson MLA Eric Redhead as well as the city  and Vale in early December in an effort to find solutions but has not received any response. After a prior appeal to the city last July, they offered help with government contact to help find foreign workers.

This was confirmed by city manager Anthony McInnis during council’s Jan. 16 committee of the whole meeting, during which a letter from Hudson Reykdal was briefly discussed.

McInnis said he and the mayor had spoken with the provincial minister in charge of immigration matters about helping to facilitate the entry of foreign veterinarians and technicians into Canada.

“Those people could be fast-tracked especially if they’re part of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade agreement,” said McInnis. “The city’s role in terms of getting staff here would be to work with the province. The city can’t actually engage or hire any of the people but we can facilitate getting any workers here that are needed. That’s something that we’re able to do and as soon as we have names or names are put forward, we can vet those through with the province.”

Mayor Colleen Smook said the ball is in Hudson Reykdal’s court when it comes to that moving that process forward.

“If there’s any issues at all the ministers have agreed with us and the staff, with Anthony, that we’ll do our best to get things worked out.”

From the sounds of Hudson Reykdal’s followup email to customers the day after council discussed her letter, the work needed to get foreign workers would be one more task added to her already bursting to-do list and is not in the cards, especially since it isn’t a permanent or timely solution.

“The challenge with hiring foreign veterinarians is that many do not come from institutes who are accredited by the CVMA/AVMA, which means they have to undertake additional steps to be licensed to work in Canada,” she wrote. “This process can take months to years and is very costly. Until they are fully accredited, they can work under direct supervision only. So a fully licensed vet must be on the premise at all times. Even getting a vet into Canada from an accredited university is a huge undertaking.”

A meeting for concerned pet owners is scheduled for Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m at University College of the North, the vet told customers Jan. 17.

How to deal with a lack of vet care is a topic the humane society has been discussing for several months now, according to Sawh.

“We saw the situation emerging,” he said. “At the minimum, we need to have some structure in place where there's regular vet services in Thompson, and when I say regular, it has to be on a monthly basis.”

Sawh says the organization is open to talks with anyone about how to serve their needs and those of pet owners.

“We are more than willing to work with anyone to try and work out some solution to this,” he said.

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