Union calls for immediate action on first-responder mental-health injuries

For Immediate Release
August 30, 2017

A ground-breaking study on mental disorders among first responders is proof that action needs to be taken immediately to prevent unnecessary suffering, says the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA).

“This study shows that paramedics and dispatchers are almost five times as likely to suffer a mental-health injury as members of the general population,” says Trudy Thomson, vice-president of HSAA, the union that represents about 25,000 health-care professionals including paramedics and dispatchers.

The study was conducted by mental-health experts and published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. It looked at operational-stress injuries among first responders, including police, firefighters, paramedics, 911 operators and correctional officers. It reported that among the 5,813 participants in the survey, a total of 44.5 per cent screened positive for one or more mental disorders. The rates for paramedics and dispatchers was even higher at 49.1 per cent and 48.4 per cent respectively. According to Statistics Canada, the rate for the general population stands at 10 per cent.

“While this survey is bigger than we’ve seen before, the results are no surprise. This supports what we have heard from our members and from other statistics – paramedics and dispatchers are more likely to suffer mental-health injuries including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), than other first responders or health-care workers,” says Thomson.

HSAA is calling on Alberta Health Services (AHS) and other EMS providers in Alberta to give first responders access to mental-health professionals when they need it and free of charge to the employee.

“Because the workers are exposed to these injuries as a result of their work, it’s the responsibility of the employer to provide appropriate care. The nature of these injuries means that the kind of support provided under Employee and Family Assistance Plans (EFAPs) isn’t sufficient. Workers need immediate and long-term assistance from experts familiar with EMS culture,” says Thomson. “We cannot wait any longer to provide this help. Every delay increases the risk of further injury or even deaths.”

HSAA has been working with AHS on mental-health injuries since escalating the issue under the collective agreement two years ago. Together, the union and employer have instituted a training program to make workers aware of when they have an injury and when they need to seek help. All EMS members at AHS will have completed this training by the end of 2017. HSAA has offered to work with other EMS employers, but they have not responded.

“Awareness is only the first step. Once a worker is aware he or she has a problem, they need access to help. This approach is already being used by various police and emergency-service agencies in Alberta and across Canada. It has been shown to reduce the number and severity of injuries. It’s time to adopt this life-saving approach here,” says Thomson.

 

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MEDIA CONTACT: Trudy Thomson, HSAA Vice-President, 780-264-8438