Local veterinarian agrees to retire, sell practice

The Highland Animal Hospital in Port Hawkesbury (pictured), as well as clinics in Guysborough, Inverness, Chéticamp, and Ingonish will have to be sold in the next 12 months after long-time local veterinarian Sietse Van Zwol agreed to permanently retire following an agreement with the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association.

HALIFAX: A long-serving local veterinarian has agreed to give up his licence and sell his practice.

Last week, the Complaints Committee of the Nova Scotia Veterinary Medical Association (NSVMA) reached an agreement with Dr. Sietse Van Zwol.

“Not suspended, he’s retired, so he no longer has a licence to practice,” Dr. Frank Richardson, registrar for the NSVMA told The Reporter. “He has agreed that as of July 9, he would cease practice, forfeit his licence, and not entertain getting a licence in any other jurisdiction.”

In addition to Port Hawkesbury, the Highland Animal Hospital has offices in Guysborough, Inverness, Chéticamp, and Ingonish.

“Now that he’s no longer a licenced veterinarian, the practice will have to change hands,” Richardson said. “Dr. Van Zwol has 12 months in which to do that.”

According to a summary of the committee’s decision, the subject of the complaint is the treatment of an eight-year-old Husky named Cooper who was brought to the Highland Animal Hospital in Ingonish for an assessment on Aug. 4, 2020.

The complainant said Van Zwol sought permission to give an injection to Cooper to relax him and prevent from being bitten, noting she consented to that injection.

“She then describes Dr. Van Zwol leaving and returning some minutes later, and injecting Cooper with a second needle. She states he gave no explanation for this procedure,” according to the decision.

The complainant then realized that Cooper had been euthanized and demanded an explanation for which Van Zwol apologized, noting he had three dogs to euthanize that day. He offered to cover the cost of cremating Cooper, according to the decision.

Van Zwol apologized to the NSVMA and veterinary colleagues for the mistake, and claimed he offered to buy the complainant a new dog, a fact that was contested by the dog owner.

After considering the information provided by the complainant and Van Zwol, as well as other information gathered in the course of the investigation, the committee reviewed the records for other appointments on the same date.

“A number of concerns were identified by the committee respecting the records that were reviewed, including the lack of information such as differential diagnoses and treatment plan options. There was no record of communication with clients about exam findings and treatment options,” the decision reads.

As a result of this review, the committee ordered a more extensive audit of Van Zwol’s medical records.

“This audit raised a number of additional concerns respecting deficiencies in Dr. Van Zwol’s practice, principally relating to poor record keeping, lack of justification for diagnoses and treatment, minimal diagnostics being performed or recommended, and medication concerns,” the decision states.

The panel said it was “particularly concerned” in light of Van Zwol’s history with the NSVMA which involved communication, medical records and standard of care deficiencies.

Considering this “serious error,” his prior disciplinary history, the results of the audit, and his proximity to retirement, Van Zwol agreed to retire permanently.

In 2016 Van Zwol was suspended for two months, reprimanded and directed to take a record keeping course, following a complaint about his assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of a dog, as well as his communication with the client. According to the NSVMA, he was directed to complete a record keeping course and to participate in follow up audits of his practice, all of which were completed.

It was during that 2016 investigation that the NSVMA learned that Van Zwol had been reprimanded on previous occasions between 1992 and 2009, but legislation at the time did not authorize publication of the earlier cases.

Van Zwol also had a caution issued to him by the NSVMA in regards to a case involving a puppy which died after an unauthorized surgery. According to an autopsy, the puppy’s incision had not been medically closed and there was a tear in the intestines.

“Our role is to protect the public; that’s the role of any self-regulating profession,” Richardson added. “I feel that we’ve satisfied that requirement and we’ve done the best we can to see that happen.”