Alberta paramedic regulator axes eight people after PTSD licensing scandal

Alberta’s paramedic regulator has terminated its registration committee, dogged by a months-long controversy over licences for first responders with mental health issues like work-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

Documents show mass termination is latest turn in nasty disagreement over controversial mental health file

Alberta's paramedic regulator appears in need of life support, after a mass termination and months of infighting. (CBC)

Alberta's paramedic regulator has terminated its registration committee, dogged by a months-long controversy over licences for first responders with mental health issues like work-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

Documents leaked to CBC reveal the Alberta College of Paramedics voted Tuesday to terminate all eight committee members responsible for regulating paramedic licences. The terminations come into effect Jan. 22.

"On January 22, 2016, all members of the Registration Committee ... will be terminated from their positions on the committee," reads the motion included in a "request for decision" document distributed to the college's elected council members this week.

The suggested course of action was to provide a 10-day grace period so members could resign before their official termination.

The college confirmed Thursday the motion passed with a majority vote.

The terminations are the latest turn in a mire of unprecedented legal posturing, complaints and counter complaints, plus stalled government mediation, among college leadership. Meanwhile, rank-and-file paramedics are calling for administrators to resign, even the organization's top manager.

The maelstrom stems back to a decision in the case of Alberta paramedic Dave McAllister.

Controversy and complaints

McAllister had difficulty renewing his registration (commonly known as a licence to practice) when he revealed on his renewal form that he had post-traumatic stress disorder, had sought treatment and was cleared by a doctor to go back to work. After a nine-month appeal process, his full licence was restored.

But the registration committee disagreed with the decision-making process. They wanted a chance to appeal and defend their reasons for denying him his licence. And they made it known.

Paramedic Dave McAllister returned to work mid-September. (CBC)
On Sept. 21, just a few days after McAllister got his full licence back, the committee chair penned a letter asking the college's elected council members to investigate.

"The registration committee requests that council order an immediate human resources operational review … of the joint leadership," wrote then-chair Barry Straub on behalf of the committee. The letter recommended registrar/executive director Tim Essington and deputy registrar Becky Donelon be placed on administrative leave until the review was finished.

When council didn't act on that recommendation, the registration committee hired high-powered Calgary law firm Miller Thomson to represent them, and sent a second letter. This time they contacted Alberta deputy health minister Carl Amrhein.

"We write to request that you take action under the Health Disciplines Act to determine whether the Council of the Alberta College of Paramedics and the College Registrar are performing their duties in a proper manner," wrote current registration committee chair Dana Terry on behalf of his colleagues.

"In the past month, the registration committee members, particularly the chair, have been subject to a barrage of pressure including veiled threats, the untimely removal of their management consultant and bad faith questions regarding the legitimacy of the decisions of the registration committee," she added.

One day after that letter went out, the elected council voted to place Terry and the entire registration committee on administrative leave.

They then suspended all eight members, around the same time that Donelon filed conduct complaints against them.

Stormy situations

In the roughly two months since then, the provincial government attempted to mediate but did not resolve the problem. The registration committee's lawyer filed a formal letter accusing the college of "acting in bad faith," and the registration committee as a whole was terminated.

"Council voted for removal because certain stances and actions of the Registration Committee, outside of conducting actual registration reviews, were not consistent with the College's governance model," wrote Krista Rivet, college spokesperson, in an email.

She confirmed the vote and explained the terminated members' duties will be carried out by an interim committee that was appointed in October. She said the college cannot comment on the other developments listed in the request for decision document because "the motion and the rationale are confidential."

"There doesn't seem to be any common sense," said George Porter, a veteran Alberta paramedic and advocate, after he heard about the termination vote.

He called for a government review of the registration committee's decisions at the Alberta paramedics annual general meeting this fall. And he's making plans to attempt a special meeting of the membership as soon as possible, to craft a non-confidence motion and vote to punt the entire college leadership.

According to Porters interpretation of health legislation, if 10 per cent of the membership sign a petition asking for such a vote, the college would be obligated to call the special meeting.

When CBC contacted Alberta's ministry of health about the college's termination vote, a spokesperson said it was the first his office had heard of it. 

"When the college and the registration committee contacted us for assistance earlier this winter, we arranged for a mediator to work with them to understand and resolve any concerns," Timothy Wilson said.

"In light of the information you have shared, the ministry will follow up with the college."


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