Blea to Return As California Equine Medical Director Sept. 21

Jeff Blea AAEP

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Jeff Blea, on administrative leave from his post as California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) equine medical director since early January after the California Veterinary Medical Board (VMB) successfully petitioned to have his license temporarily suspended, is set to officially return to the position Sept. 21 having reached a settlement with the VMB, according to Michael Casey, Blea's attorney.

As a condition of the settlement, Blea is required to undergo continuing education classes in record keeping, Casey said. Blea will also be on a three-year probationary period.
“If you look at the disciplinary guidelines, probationary periods are required for record keeping or really any violation, so, it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that there is a probationary period,” said Casey.

Casey was unable to offer any further information when pressed about the circumstances surrounding Blea's suspension.

In pushing for the interim suspension, the veterinary medical board had charged Blea with various alleged violations, including prescribing, dispensing, and administering medications without performing a proper examination and diagnosis.

The TDN conducted an investigation into the accusations against Blea and found a consensus among several prominent equine veterinarians around the country that the case amounted largely to relatively minor record keeping violations, those typically resulting in fines.

The settlement order has not yet been posted on the VMB's website. The TDN reached out to the California Department of Consumer Affairs for comment but didn't receive a response before deadline.

The CHRB also had no comment prior to publication, but it had hitherto thrown its support behind Blea, and had asked the VMB to withdraw its petition for the interim suspension.

The genesis of this story ostensibly traces back to February of 2021, when the veterinary medical board allegedly received an anonymous complaint concerning the “unsafe treatment of equine patients” by multiple Californian racetrack veterinarians.

On Dec. 17, the veterinary board lodged formal accusations against Blea, accusing him of several violations, including allegedly prescribing, dispensing, and administering medications to racehorses without establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, without performing an examination, and without forming a diagnosis.

At an emergency hearing on Christmas Eve, the veterinary board successfully petitioned an interim suspension of Blea's veterinary license.

The medical board's action to temporarily suspend Blea's license was a rare move, typically reserved for veterinarians charged with some of the more egregious veterinary and professional offenses, and those deemed an imminent danger to the animals in their care.

Blea had not actively practiced veterinary medicine since July of 2021, when he assumed the role of equine medical director.

In arguing the suspension, the medical board also referenced the recent sudden death of the Bob Baffert-trained Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit on Dec. 6, and the horse's ongoing postmortem examination, arguing that Blea presented a danger to “public health, safety and welfare” were he to continue in his role as equine medical director.

The TDN conducted an investigation earlier this year into the board's accusations against Blea, asking whether other events that had occurred around that time–including Medina Spirit's sudden death–rendered the veterinary board's actions more political theater than medical necessity.

The investigation found a consensus among eight veterinary medical experts who described the accusations largely as matters that rarely, if ever, rise to the level of a suspended license, and that the board had misrepresented the unique nature of veterinary practice on the backstretch where veterinarians with multiple barns under their care can build the sort of daily relationship with their animals typically absent from traditional small animal practice.

“We might not even fine him for this,” said Eric Peterson, former member of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Board, at the time.

Since Jan. 12 when UC Davis–which contracts out to the medical director position to the CHRB–officially placed Blea on administrative leave pending a formal review of his license, his professional status has essentially remained in limbo, having had to temporarily step away from his other professional affiliations, including his post on the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act's committee on Anti-Doping and Medication Control.

Come Sept. 21, there will be “no restrictions on his involvement with any veterinary organization and I fully anticipate Jeff will be back serving the equine community in all capacities where his knowledge and skill will continue to focus on equine safety and welfare,” wrote Casey, in a follow-up text.

The settlement does not put an end to the veterinary medical board's scrutiny of veterinary practices across racetrack backstretches in California.

The VMB is involved in ongoing cases against veterinarians Kim Kuhlmann, Steven Boyer and Kenneth Allison in Northern California, and against veterinarians Sarah Graybill Jones and Vince Baker in Southern California.

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