In closing my column of last week on how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is affecting some in the local paramedic community as the Sault Ste. Marie District Social Services Administration Board takes over operation from the city, I indicated my lone source for the story would explain how PTSD has affected her.
At the current time she is off work, being solely on Workplace Safety and Insurance Board benefits since April. All return-to-work negotiations are on hold until she can attend a residential PTSD treatment program at the request of a psychologist.
As much as possible, I am going to let her explain her situation in her own words. Because of her fear of reprisal, the anonymity I accorded her in last week’s column will continue in this one.
“Anxiety and panic attacks over what could happen when witnessing dangerous behaviour of others in any situation,” she wrote in an email.
“Recurring flashbacks to previous calls that relate to current events being read in the news, seen in movies and on TV, or witnessing while out in public, and flashbacks and intrusive memories when driving past locations of past calls;
“Not being able to watch TV, news, movies that have any sort of violence because it will trigger flashbacks to related calls;
“Lying in bed trying to go to sleep and my brain comes up with all sorts of new visuals on trauma people could have, even though I have never been on that type of call or seen that type of injury.”
“Nightmares based on something seen, read or talked about during the day or even the past few days and nightmares that enroll various aspects of multiple calls into one horrific scenario:
“Waking up in the middle of the night and being too scared to go back to sleep, even if exhausted, because being awake is better than the possibility of another nightmare:
“Irritability over nothing;
“Avoidance of social situations because someone may bring up a ‘story’ and I don’t want to hear it, or being asked what is the worst thing I have ever seen. Most people are not actually prepared to hear the answer to that question.”
That takes care of the mental health aspect of what this paramedic is facing, but this has led to another area of concern, the face-off with the city and the DSSAB and the lack of support she feels she is getting from her union, Unifor.
She feels as a result of the PTSD diagnosis she has been thrown aside by management as not being useful any longer, her job having been given to someone else.
As to the future, she said she would like to return to being a paramedic but with the time to recover at her own pace with the assistance of a psychologist.
“The employer needs to stop pressuring return to work” she said. “I was attending the Regional Emergency Services Complex on Old Garden River Road to do self-directed exposure therapy with weekly check-ins with the psychologist. The city turned that into work. If I was in the building I was to be working.”
She said she would definitely consider a job in communications in any of the city’s emergency services.
“It has been suggested by medical professionals that I consider this job, yet my employer, because of an uneducated interpretation of any PTSD diagnosis, states I cannot do this job.”
She claims the city failed to submit a business plan which would have allowed for community paramedics, paramedics who do not respond to emergencies or attend emergency calls but still operate within the paramedic program.
But Malcolm White, chief administrative officer with the city, points to a letter submitted by Fire Chief Peter Johnson which he sees as the fire chief setting the city’s position that paramedics suffering from PTSD would not be suitable for light-duty accommodation within the fire service..
“Even if we had the community paramedicine program we wouldn’t be accommodating employees with PTSD-related restrictions in it,” White told me in an email..
But I don’t see Johnson as being that hard and fast with his words as he used “generally speaking” and “not likely” in suggesting that a job in communications would not be an appropriate form of disability accommodation for those suffering from PTSD..
Anyway, the paramedic at issue can be excused if she feels a bit of paranoia coming on.
She had to leave a meeting on June 17 because of PTSD exacerbation and she received a letter dated June 20 from the fire chief stating that if she failed to attend a follow-up meeting on June 25 she would “be considered absent without leave, at which point you will be subject to discipline, up to and including discharge.” She received a similar threat from Peter Niro, executive director of human resources with the city, in July in regard to another meeting.
Her union in a letter dated June 18, 2019, said the city had done its legal obligation and if she chose not to participate she could be looking at disciplinary action from the city and also her WSIB claim could be in jeopardy.
She also said a return-to-work specialist with the WSIB stated that she could not receive retraining and would have to take a job with her current employer, the city. She says WSIB is currently denying her a local treatment provider until she attends a residential treatment program.
Although she would like to remain a paramedic, she fears going to the DSSAB because she would be working for the same people she believes would like to get rid of her.
At one time she was working three half days a week but when she was offered the first position outside her bargaining unit, she told me it was expected that she would work five full days in that location immediately.
There are six paramedics who have been mentally injured on the job taking care of us. They have a steep hill to climb on their way to recovery. Surely we owe them a helping hand up, rather than issuing threats or throwing up roadblocks.