24% of Calgary EMS workers were bullied, harassed at work: survey

WATCH ABOVE: Some new details were uncovered in a report that shows paramedics in Alberta are struggling with alarming numbers related to bullying and morale. Staff are sounding the alarm as a means of protecting first responders. Lisa MacGregor has more on how they hope to combat the problem.

An Alberta EMS employee engagement survey suggests about a quarter of EMS workers in Calgary and the south zone have been bullied or harassed, either verbally, physically or sexually in the workplace, Global News has learned.

The survey said 24 per cent of respondents in Calgary reported such harassment, along with 27 per cent in the south zone. (In Edmonton, only 16 per cent reported such bullying).

READ MORE: Working conditions deteriorating for paramedics, says union survey

The chief paramedic at Alberta Health Services said he was surprised by the responses about bullying.

“That piece was a bit of a surprise — that it was that high, so we’re going to move ahead and take steps to address it,” Darren Sandbeck said. “We’ve started work with our leadership team in reviewing the AHS code of conduct. We’re also providing the AHS toolkit on bullying behaviours to all of our leadership, and we’ll begin to have these conversations amongst our leadership group.”

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WATCH: AHS responds to bullying data in EMS survey
AHS responds to bullying data in EMS survey
AHS responds to bullying data in EMS survey

The data was categorized under the “specific areas of concern” of the Guiding Minds at Work survey. Other areas of concern included:

  • In total, 9.2 per cent of employees reported they were discriminated in the workplace due to cultural/ethnic background, disability, sexual orientation, gender or age;
  • 3.4 per cent of employees reported being treated unfairly in the workplace because they have a mental illness.

The president of the union representing EMS members in Alberta says the survey should serve as a wake-up call.

“We now verify it with independent means and it can’t just be dismissed. There’s a lot of work to be done,” Elisabeth Ballermann, Health Sciences Association of Alberta president, said.

“There’s a psychological health committee that is working on this and as a union, we are committed to continuing work on this and to support our members to make sure they are safe at work.”

Alberta Liberal leader David Swann, who recently completed a review into the province’s mental health system, said he was not surprised by the survey results because they support what he’s heard from front-line EMS workers themselves.

“I’m hearing from these people often, they are afraid to speak out but they’re actually at the end of their rope.”

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Swann says the problems go back at least six years and feels not enough has been done to make improvements.

“It’s time to review this management, some heads need to roll. This has been going on far too long and it’s risking not only the people themselves in EMS, it’s risking the public.”

READ MORE: Code Red – A blog from ‘one utterly frustrated EMT’

The survey also looked at whether workers felt like their psychological safety was ensured, which included factors such as the employer minimizing stress at work, supervisors caring about emotional well-being of employees, and the employer dealing effectively with threatening situations at work.

Twenty-six per cent of AHS EMS employees had significant concerns about their psychological safety; 26 per cent had moderate concerns; 32 per cent had minimal concerns and 16 per cent considered the employer to have “relative strengths” in those areas.

READ MORE: Is there enough mental health support for first responders?

The survey was dated December 2015, and was made available to 5,605 employees, 1,514 of which participated.

READ MORE: Code Red – Veteran Alberta paramedic blogs about EMS

– With files from Global’s Heather Yourex-West

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