Interim Suspension Order Issued Against California Horse Racing Board Equine Medical Director, Jeff Blea, Pending Full Investigation and Formal Hearing

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By Stella Gerson

On January 28, 2022, Judge Nana Chin, Administrative Law Judge for the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), granted the Veterinary Medical Board’s (VMB) Petition for Interim Suspension and Cease Practice Order against the license of Jeff A Blea (VET 11928). As a result of this order, Jeff Blea will be unable to actively practice veterinary medicine or hold himself out as practicing veterinary medicine.

Judge Chin found that the evidence against Blea demonstrated that “[p]ermitting Respondent to practice and engage in veterinary medicine poses a risk of injury to the public health, safety, and welfare.” The Interim Suspension Order followed the VMB’s formal filing of an accusation against Jeff Blea on December 21, 2021, and Judge Chin’s order granting VMB’s December 21 petition for interim license suspension on January 3, 2022 (Case No. 4602021001570).  VMB’s charges stem from Blea’s actions as a horse track veterinarian between January and March 2021 in Southern California. The Los Angeles Times reported on January 12, 2022, that the University of California, Davis, placed Blea on administrative leave from his role as Equine Medical Director (EMD) pending further review of his veterinary license. Further, news sources have reported that, Drs. Heather Knych and Ashley Hill have been named acting EMDs and will perform the statutory functions of the EMD. On January 26, 2022, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) published a press release on their unanimous support for Jeff Blea during these proceedings.

Petitioner Jessica Sieferman, in her official capacity as VMB’s Executive Officer, filed this accusation against Respondent alleging eight causes for discipline for violating the Veterinary Medical Practice Act. The allegations include negligence, improper recordkeeping, and unprofessional conduct, including prescribing, dispensing, and administering drugs to equine patients without establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR), without performing an examination, without forming a diagnosis, and without medical necessity.

On February 11, 2022, Petitioner Sieferman filed the first amended accusation, containing specific details regarding the Board’s current investigation into Blea. In this public document, Petitioner asserts that Blea administered medication, Thyro-L, an aspirin powder, and thyroid replacement drug, to equine patients, without FDA approval and in violation of the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act of 1994. VMB also accuses Blea of administering Lasix, a long-considered performance-enhancing drug in the horse racing industry, to four horses to counter exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, a condition in which horses experience lung bleeding during exercise, without ever examining the horses. Notably, the amended accusation alleges that from January through March 2021, Blea administered medications to 3,225 horses over 67 working days (an average of 48 horses per day).

In the amended accusation, the Board seeks to revoke or suspend Blea’s license and order Blea to pay the costs of the investigation and enforcement of this case and a fine of up to $5,000. Another formal hearing within the next several months will be required to address the merits of the Board’s allegations and to revoke Blea’s license permanently.

On February 24, 2022, according to Blea’s attorney Mr. Wallace, he filed a writ of mandate with the California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles seeking to lift the VMB’s interim suspension on his veterinary license. The results of his petition are pending, awaiting the next formal hearing on the case to be held.

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