An Alberta veterinarian says he’s disappointed with the decision of a tribunal that suspended his registration, ordered his clinic closed and fined him $50,000 for professional misconduct after three incidents in 2017, including one in which a dog died following surgery.
Dr. Jeff Serfas operated the Forestburg Veterinary Clinic in Forestburg, Alta., a rural village about 150 kilometres east of Red Deer.
In May, an Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) tribunal ordered the clinic to close after ruling Serfas acted unprofessionally in connection with the incidents between April and August of 2017.
“Dr. Serfas’ conduct was a significant departure from the accepted minimum professional and ethical standards for members of the veterinary profession and adversely affected the public’s confidence in the integrity of the profession,” the tribunal’s decision reads.
The tribunal of three veterinarians and one member of the public ordered Serfas’ registration to be suspended for one year, issued him a formal reprimand and mandated he pay a further $60,000 in investigation and hearing costs.
“I am disappointed in certain findings of misconduct and the harshness of the penalties imposed,” Serfas wrote in an email to CTV News.
“But I am making all the best efforts to learn from and comply with the rulings of my professional association and hope to be reestablished in my profession as soon as may be allowed.”
The punishments stem from a total of 33 allegations of misconduct that followed operations on two dogs and also a separate conduct complaint under the Veterinary Profession Act.
The majority of the complaints are connected with an April 24, 2017 surgery Serfas performed on a dog named Peanut, with the tribunal ruling he acted unprofessionally
in 12 of the 20 allegations, including:
- Exceeding his authority in removing all but two of Peanut’s teeth
- Failing to have a dedicated anesthetist and proper anesthetic protocol
- Performing surgery without dental blocks and failing to suture Peanut’s gums afterward
- Failing to recognize post-operation bleeding and providing proper discharge instructions
Peanut died in the days after the surgery in part due to severe blood loss, according to the tribunal’s decision.
“Such actions show a lack of skill and judgement in the practice of veterinary medicine and harms the public while carrying on the practice of veterinary medicine,” the decision reads.
He was also shown to have failed to maintain proper medical records with respect to Peanut as well as around an Aug. 10, 2017 surgery on a dog named Angel.
Finally, Serfas admitted to the tribunal he was unprofessional when he wrote and shared a letter containing confidential information and accusations of bullying against the ABVMA.
“To air these grievances publicly undermines other veterinarians and the profession as a whole,” the tribunal’s decision reads.
In total, the tribunal found professional misconduct in 18 of the 33 allegations.
PRIOR DISCIPLINARY ISSUES
Serfas had prior disciplinary issues with the ABVMA as detailed in a 2014 edition of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association Members’ Magazine.
In a set of agreed findings, the publication details how an ABVMA tribunal fined, reprimanded and suspended him for 30 days among other punishments following complaints in 2012 and 2013, including:
- Serfas consumed alcohol while undertaking professional responsibilities and examined a dead cow while impaired
- Engaged in inappropriate behaviour with clinic staff
- Inappropriately handled animals and left the clinic while small animal patients remained anaesthetized
- Delegated veterinary medical tasks to non-registered auxiliary staff
“I have always respected my staff, have treated them fairly and remain friends with many of them,” Serfas wrote to CTV News.
PLANS TO REOPEN
His clinic’s closure leaves the community of about 900 and the surrounding area without its most immediate animal care provider.
“We’re down a vet and a very important vet in this area,” said Laurie Skori who says she’s been taking her animals to Serfas since 1998.
She says many in the area were surprised by the tribunal’s decision and that Serfas had a good reputation among animal owners.
“I’ve never met a more professional vet,” she said. “He was the best.”
The June tribunal decision also restricts Serfas to the supervised practice of large animal veterinary medicine for three years after he concludes his initial one-year suspension on June 15, 2020.
He says the clinic remains closed pending an inspection and hiring of staff.
“The future plans of the clinic are to reopen as soon as a responsible individual is hired.”