Millroy: The paramedic I spoke with is not impressed

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Although the Sault Ste. Marie District Social Services Administration Board will be taking direct control of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in the new year, not all paramedics will be making the move.

Some suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder who are working in accommodated positions with EMS will go but others, who are in accommodated positions with the city or on leave covered by the Workers Safety and Insurance Board, will continue to be covered by the city.

I do not have numbers showing how many suffering from PTSD will be going to DSSAB or how many will be staying with the city but I do knew the total number of those involved is six
That is the word I got recently from Malcolm White, chief administrative officer with the city.
This could be considered welcome news by some because since it was announced officially in May that the DSSAB was taking over the EMS operation, those suffering from PTSD could be excused for thinking they were in something of a no-man’s land.

They had the thought that the DSSAB didn’t want to take them and the city didn’t want to keep them, a thought that neither the DSSAB nor the city seemed willing to lay to rest.
This was not something that made it easy for those involved  to sleep at night, especially since they were already in enough trouble combatting PTSD.

And some will still be on tenterhooks, those in accommodated positions with the city awaiting word as to whether they will be going as they are afraid of what might happen to them if they are left behind.

I first heard about the dilemma these paramedics faced several months ago when I was told about the worry the uncertainty was causing one family.

The person who expressed the concern to me said she would have the one she knew contact me.

It never happened.

I found out why a while later. Apparently the paramedics suffering from PTSD were afraid to talk to the media because of the fear of retaliation from their employer, whichever one it was going to be eventually.

But then one,  who has 17 years experience in the field behind her but an uncertain future ahead of her, agreed to sit down with me. Fearing reprisal, she asked for anonymity in this piece and I agreed to it.

Our first meeting, which took place in the downtown branch of the public library, also included two ardent supporters, her husband and mother.

She said she had months ago emailed Mike Nadeau, chief administrative officer of the DSSAB, asking him to confirm that DSSAB has refused to take accommodated workers within the department, specifically refusing permanently accommodated workers.

She said his response was that he would not comment as she was an employee of the city.
She said she hoped I had better luck than she did.

I did.

In his second reply to me, Nadeau said, “Employees who are not actively at work with the City due to disability on the transition date (Jan. 1, 2020) shall remain the City’s responsibility until such employees are able to return to active employment, at which time they will become employees of the DSSAB. We will not have a final number of employees not transitioning until closer to the transition date.”

I had already gotten a similar reply from White, whom I also asked if Fire Chief Peter Johnson had anything to back up his claim in a letter he wrote regarding EMS work accommodation that anyone who has suffered from PTSD or who is suffering from it wouldn’t be suited to work in a communications room (dispatch).

I noted that when I was a reporter years ago in Calgary, most of the people in communications room of the fire department were veterans who, with body parts blown off, had not only seen but experienced some pretty awful things..

In his reply, White said: “First, to deal with EMS personnel who may be off on PTSD leave. If they are off their regular duties but performing accommodated duties within EMS, they will transfer to the DSSAB as of Jan. 1. If they are performing accommodated duties elsewhere or are off completely, they will remain with the City until they are ready to return to duty, at which time they will transfer to the DSSAB.

“If they are unable to return to duty permanently they would remain City employees and not transfer to the DSSAB.  For privacy reasons, especially with the small number of personnel affected, I won’t comment on how many are in those categories, although I can confirm that the total number is 6.

“As to the communications work issue, I would note that there are employees in communications (911) areas with other employers experiencing PTSD disabilities. Our position on the matter, as put forward in the Fire Chief’s letter, was based on consultation with external expertise.

“For your Calgary reference, I don’t think we can apply the standards and workplace environment from those times to today’s situation.”

The paramedic I spoke with is not impressed.

“Why would they pick and chose which injuries and differentiate between severity that will be acceptable to the DSSAB?

“As for the letter from Peter Johnson and the dispatch matter, I have had multiple psychologists and psychiatrists ask why I don’t apply for a job in dispatch. The city is discriminating based on a diagnosis and presumed disability.”

She suggested there is also a case for ableism (discrimination in favour of those who are not physically or mentally disabled).

PTSD is hard to understand for those of us who have never even suffered stress, or didn’t recognize it if we did, so next week my source will explain how it has affected her.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m thrilled that this is a conversation happening. I applaud the EMS for being willing to share their story.

    I think it’s strange, that Mr. Milroy chose to publish specific demographic information about the EMS who wanted to speak anonymously. Gender, years served, marital status… are incredibly identifying details.

    His choice to share this information was particularly concerning after reading the quote provided by White “… For privacy reasons, especially with the small number of personnel affected…”.

    I imagine the article would have been just as effective using: gender neutral pronouns, adjectives like “seasoned” or “experienced” to describe their time serving, and “was accompanied by two supportive loved ones” instead of “husband and mother” – while maintaining the EMS’ actual anonymity.

    Great content, thanks for seeking the answers needed – but what happened to the journalism ethics and integrity of protecting sources? I imagine the untintended consequences of this piece might include further stigma and more silence.

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