Edmonton·In Depth

Alberta paramedics watching PTSD licence hearing

Mike Lacourciere now faces a trial where he will fight to regain his paramedic registration, denied after he admitted he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mike Lacourciere hopes his hearing will set a precedent to help others

Mike Lacourciere hopes he can help others by giving evidence at a hearing in Edmonton Wednesday. (CBC)

Mike Lacourciere now faces a trial where he will fight to regain his paramedic registration, denied after he admitted he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Wednesday morning, Lacourciere will talk to the Health Disciplines Board, the government body that oversees self-regulating professions in Alberta, about how he lost his paramedic licence after he revealed that he took time off for treatment of work-related PTSD.

The outcome of his hearing will be watched closely by paramedics in Alberta and across the country, and by Bridget Turner, who lost her paramedic husband earlier this year when he killed himself of the job.

They'll be watching because what happens here could affect them too.

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Lacourciere's legal representative is not certain whether his client will be allowed to give evidence at this hearing.

But if he is, he will tell the board that the self-governing Alberta College of Paramedics asked for further details and medical records on his condition, even after his family doctor cleared him to go back to work.

Lacourciere refused, sending instead an excerpt from a letter from the Workers' Compensation Board, which had also Ok'd him to do the job again. That wasn't enough for the college, and because Lacourciere couldn't work as a paramedic anymore he lost his job. 

Another paramedic who went through similar hearings during the past year eventually did get his licence back.

Like Lacourciere, David McAllister appealed to the Health Disciplines Board.

The pair have since filed a human rights complaint, claiming they were discriminated against because of their mental health conditions.

And since they went public, the committee that handles registrations was suspended to make way for a review. A college spokesperson confirmed Tuesday that that review is underway, is being conducted by a "government-appointed delegate" and that it's expected to take 60 days. 

Alberta paramedics are watching it all closely because the outcome could affect how they are regulated. 

And could change how many feel about sharing their mental health struggles. 

The self-regulators 

Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are the only provinces where paramedics are a self-regulating profession.

And it appears the college here does things differently, when it comes to mental health and renewing registration.

"We have not restricted, terminated, suspended anybody's licence to practice based on mental health or resiliency issues," said Chris Hood, executive director of the college in New Brunswick, who is also the president of the Paramedic Association of Canada.

He said if the claims made by Lacourciere and McAllister are true, that they were cleared by doctors to go back to work and had no complaints on their records, further restricting their licences would be "unusual."

New Brunswick paramedics, like those in Alberta, are asked to check "yes" or "no" to a specific competency question on their annual application forms to renew their licences.

In Alberta, the question reads: "Have you ever suffered from, or do you currently suffer from a physical, mental or emotional condition or disorder, or an addiction to alcohol, drugs or other chemicals, that may impair your ability or suitability to safely, competently and independently provide professional service?"

Hood said in his province, answering "yes" to similar question does not  trigger an automatic response to limit a person's licence until the college gets further proof of competency.

But if the New Brunswick college receives a complaint that questions someone's competency, he said, requests for records would be routine and expected.  

'We don't ask'

In Saskatchewan, paramedics are not asked such a question on their annual licence renewal forms.

"We don't ask about PTSD or mental health issues," said Jacque Messer-Lepage, the executive director of the Saskatchewan College of Paramedics.

"We have many members that are doing their jobs and functioning well with PTSD," she said.

She said paramedics in Saskatchewan are also not obligated to tell the regulating college if they have received treatment for or taken time off work because of a mental health issue.

Paramedics there do have to declare they are following provincial bylaws, which include making sure they are healthy and able to do their work.

If someone raises a complaint or a concern, she explained each is looked at case by case.

Messer-Lepage said the college may ask for specific health details, but they are judicious.

"In Saskatchewan, we have very stringent health privacy rules."

Always with me

Alberta has stringent rules too. 

Lacourciere hopes his hearing will help protect and enhance them.

Whatever happens, Bridget Turner will be following it closely.

Turner is now packing up her life, and hopes to leave behind the pain that began when her husband Greg committed suicide during his shift as a paramedic.

He was afraid of all the things that ended up happening to Lacourciere.

She believes that fear is why Greg killed himself, just days away from his first psychologist appointment.

"Circumstances change," she said. "Everyone has the potential to deal with mental health issues.

"But if the perception is 'tick that box and you're going to lose your job' … then the flu becomes pneumonia."

And while she's closing a chapter, she'll never forget.

She made sure of that, on a recent trip to Las Vegas, where the couple got married.

There, she held back tears as more pain seared her.

Although this pain was temporary: a tattoo on the inside of her wrist, where she'll always see it.

'G.'

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