Edmonton·Exclusive

EMS mental illness reports spike after paramedic's suicide

Twenty-four EMS workers in Edmonton reported psychological injuries in the first three months of 2015 — one fewer case than the total reported for all of last year, CBC News has learned.

New numbers show importance of Edmonton widow's warning that others may be in danger

New numbers show importance of widow's warning that others may be in danger 1:56

In the first three months of this year, 24 emergency services workers in Edmonton reported psychological injuries — one fewer case than the total reported for all of 2014. 

According to information obtained by CBC News, EMS staff in the Edmonton metro region reported eight, four and 25 cases of psychological injuries in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively.

In January 2015, those numbers started to spike significantly — the same month Edmonton paramedic Greg Turner committed suicide at work.

His wife, Bridget Turner, is speaking out now, because she's worried other paramedics may be in danger. And these latest numbers show just how meaningful her warning is.

Bridget Turner said paramedics in Alberta are at a critical point. The college that regulates them has investigated at least two emergency medical service workers who reported mental illness during their registration renewal process — even though a psychologist from the Workers' Compensation Board had cleared them to go back to work on the ambulance.

"It's causing the perception that you come forward with PTSD, and you won't be getting your licence back," she said.

An Alberta paramedic who was the subject of one of the college's mental health investigations spoke to CBC News about the experience on condition of anonymity, out of fear of losing employment.

That worker believes the board's actions will make it harder for others to seek the kind of help that Greg Turner needed.

"It's tough coming forward in our profession," said the paramedic.

"People hid it until it was too late. It could lead to them just leaving the career forever, or worse, hurting themselves or killing themselves. Then we finally make this breakthrough,  AHS [Alberta Health Services] is supporting us … and the college just comes in and knocks us down."

'No education on mental illness'

The board, made up of volunteer emergency workers, is not qualified to make judgements about whether workers are fit to return to the job, the paramedic said.

"These people have no education on mental illness, and they're basically saying that they know more than trained doctors who've been doing this their whole careers."

There could be a situation, for example, where a paramedic with a  broken leg becomes addicted to painkillers, and the college would never know about it. 

"But if someone's on an anti-depressant, then all of a sudden that makes a difference? That makes no sense to me," the paramedic said.

Losing one's registration, commonly known as a licence, virtually spells the end of a career, the paramedic said.

Alberta Health Minister Stephen Mandel has said what the college is doing infringes on paramedics' rights.

"It should never be a chance that someone should be worried about losing their job or not going back to work."

The college declined CBC's request for an interview about these specific cases. Representatives said the Alberta College of Paramedics' legislative orders allow the college to conduct these kinds of investigations.

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