By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
The head of Durham’s paramedic services believes the region is doing a formidable job in providing assistance to first responders who experience traumatic situations.
Earlier this month, regional council was provided with a detailed staff report outlining the supports and programs offered to paramedics.
“I believe we are doing the best we can do,” said Paramedic Director and Chief Troy Cheeseboro. “I think we are leading the way in some areas.”
The report followed up on a request made in earlier in the fall by Oshawa Councillor Dan Carter, questioning whether enough support was being provided by the region.
Carter said he’s particularly concerned that the suicide rate among paramedics is much higher than that of police officers, firefighters, and military personnel.
According to data from Statistics Canada, the suicide rate for paramedics is 56.7 per 100,000, more than five times the national rate of 11.1 per 100,000.
In addition to the Healthy Workplaces Program, Employee Assistance Program and disability management program, which are available to all regional employees, Cheeseboro said there are several initiatives specifically for paramedic services staff.
These also include specific training to handle incidents that may cause critical stress levels and procedures for supervisors to follow up with employees after a traumatic incident.
After a distressing call, the shift superintendent will attend the scene and converse with the paramedic. After this discussion, the superintendent will determine whether the employee is fit to return to work or if they require modified duties, or in some cases, need be taken off the job.
For the chief, it is not an issue that can be treated with a one-size-fits-all type of mentality.
“Sometimes, we have to address every individual case on an individual basis,” he said.
Cheeseboro noted that while time off can help an individual who is having trouble, there is also evidence that shows it’s not the case for everyone.
Carter queried because of the scenarios paramedics witness on their job if it should be mandatory they leave their shift after a traumatic experience.
“They face things that we cannot even imagine,” Carter said. “I question…if there should be different options.”
Cheeseboro said this could be seen as “forcing people off work.”
“We have to treat every case on an individual basis,” he reiterated.
While noting resources available, Cheeseboro acknowledged, “there is always something more than can be done.”
The region has developed a post-traumatic syndrome disorder (PTSD) Prevention Plan with the “intent that it will evolve to meet the changing needs of the (paramedic) service and to respond to new learnings and developments related to mental health and PTSD prevention, support and treatment.”
The plan was developed by examining province-wide trends and services and best practices from other jurisdictions.
“We consider it a living document,” Cheeseboro noted. “We can definitely change it as we learn.”
Paramedic service administration is also investigating the merits of a peer support program.
The staff report notes, “RDPS has been consulting with other paramedic services of a similar size and call volume to determine if they have implemented such programs and what costs would be associated…”
Durham currently employs 232 full-time and 100 part-time paramedics, all who have access to support programs.
According to Cheeseboro, approximately 20 to 25 staff members are currently off work, but he could not tell council how many are related to stress.
“We are not entitled to that information. Some have been off for some period of time,” he said.