Committee members responsible for paramedic registrations in Alberta have been suspended, pending an unprecedented review and after weeks of controversy over licensing and mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
The suspension of the eight-member paramedic licensing review committee comes less than a month after emergency workers at an Alberta annual general meeting in Edmonton called for a review of the committee.
Many participants at the Oct. 1 Edmonton conference said they were worried about rulings not to renew full registration — commonly known as a licence — of certain paramedics who sought treatment for mental health issues.
A letter announcing the suspension and review was distributed to all registered paramedics in Alberta on Thursday.
"Recent events identified concerns over the guidelines generating the need for an impartial review," wrote Ian McEwan, who sits on the Alberta College of Paramedics elected council. "The review does not stem from any isolated decisions and reasons made by the committee.
"The college's objective is to regulate the profession in the interest and safety of the public and in a fair and just manner to practitioners."
The college regulates the paramedic profession in Alberta, one of just three such colleges in Canada.
Unlike some other self-regulating colleges in the province, like those overseeing doctors or lawyers, the Alberta college for paramedics is not fully independent. The health disciplines board, which is directed by the provincial Ministry of Health, holds the ultimate decision-making power.
College spokeswoman Heather Verbaas said the decision to begin a review came from the elected council that oversees the college, not from government.
She explained that suspending the registration committee was the best way to make sure the process was impartial, though she did not say who would conduct the review.
Suspected link to PTSD cases
Paramedics who have been registered by the college for decades say the suspensions are unusual, but welcome.
"I'm not totally surprised that something finally transpired like this, but I've never seen it," said veteran paramedic George Porter, who worked as a paramedic in Alberta for more than 40 years and called for a review at the annual general meeting.
"I believe it absolutely has to do with Dave McAllister's case and Mike Lacourciere's case and a few others that have been waiting in the wings," he added.
McAllister and Lacourciere are two paramedics who went public with their concerns about the committee failing to renew their licences after they revealed to the college that they sought treatment for PTSD.
A spokesman for Alberta's Health Ministry said Friday the decision for launching the review had nothing to do with government, though government is now involved.
"I can confirm that the Ministry of Health has been contacted by the Alberta College of Paramedics and asked to assist," wrote Timothy Wilson in an email response to an interview request.
"We are now reviewing the matter and cannot comment further at this time."
The suspension will last for at least 60 days. The college will strike an interim committee in the meantime, to be chosen from a roster of volunteers.