In light of a series of stories CKNW news has done about ambulance wait times and a lack of resources within the system, a B.C. Ambulance paramedic – on leave suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – is speaking out for the first time and telling his story of what he suffered and how he feels the ambulance service should be improved.
The man, who wants to stay anonymous, says he was bullied on the job for speaking up.
“My supervisor’s advice to me was that I needed to go out and have sex with a bunch of women and that would clear my head, and that’s not the way I do things.”
He tells of being forced to work 16-hour shifts because there just weren’t enough paramedics.
“The workload, the shift pattern, is absolutely insane two days on, two nights and four off. And when you have to switch from days to nights, especially in a job where a life is on the line, you can’t think straight. You’re not able to work the way you should but that doesn’t matter to the employer, all that matters is that the car (ambulance) is filled.”
He says he knows of at least one patient who died unnecessarily because of an error, and he says that still haunts him.
“”When a person has a lack of sleep they’re not thinking to the best of their ability so mistakes can be made. Paramedics do their very best to do what they can for that patient at the time, unfortunately, because of our system and the way it works, mistakes are made just like mistakes are made in the hospitals and it’s not a good scene.”
Listen: First Responders need more PTSD support and so do many other industries
He says what’s needed to improve the ambulance service is more government funding and politicians who are willing to listen and make changes.
After going off on leave because of PTSD the paramedic says he was homeless for a time and is only now getting back on his feet.
“We are acutely aware of the mental and physical toll of this job”
Linda Lupini is Executive-Vice President of Provincial Health Services Authority and BC Emergency Health Services which oversees the ambulance service says they are aware of the situation.
“We are acutely aware of the mental and physical toll of this job, we consider our paramedics, our emergency medical dispatchers to truly be heroes in terms of the work they do and there is trauma associated with the work they do. Any person in any supervisory or management position knows what they need to do to support anybody who is experiencing that kind of stress and trauma. As far as I know most of them are very, very capable of supporting paramedics.”
Lupini says if any employee is not feeling able to work, they should not work and there is a lot of support in place for anyone needing help including 37 psychologists, almost 90 peer-diffusers, clinical counsellors and social workers.
She also says shift scheduling is overseen by the collective agreement.
“Well the collective agreement outlines shifts and shift scheduling and that is something that has existed for some time, however, if any employee – especially employees who do the kind of work paramedics do and direct patient care – are not feeling able to work they should not work and we have a lot of support in place for anybody who needs help.”
Lupini says there are 200 employees who are involved in trauma counselling programs right now.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE), or call your local crisis centre.
If you are a BC Ambulance paramedic, dispatcher, call-taker or other BCEHS employee, you can access the organization’s Critical Incident Stress Management Program by calling the 24-hour pager number that can be found on the dashboard of most ambulances, dispatch computer monitors, and on the BCEHS internal website.