First responder Lisa Jennings

First responder Lisa Jennings

Many paramedics untreated for PTSD: union official

Victoria paramedic left uncared for as she battles WorkSafe, employer over legitimacy of
post-traumatic stress disorder

Slipping on a wet floor in a mill and fracturing your tailbone. Cutting your hand cooking in a commercial kitchen and needing seven stitches. Lifting a 30-kilogram box of paper and straining your back.

These are all injuries that could happen in a typical workplace. But what about a workplace that is not typical?

First responder Lisa Jennings, 49, responded to an emergency call like any other day, but the outcome of that call changed her forever.

Jennings, a paramedic in Victoria since 1997, loves what she does. But last June, after a typical call went wrong she began having nightmares, flashbacks and nausea. She described herself as being “angry and hyper-vigilant.”

Still uncomfortable with discussing the events of that day, Jennings would only say that she was left feeling frightened and unsafe.

“I was not the same,” said the Esquimalt resident.

Ten days later Jennings said she had no concept of what was happening to her and describes waking up one night, taking out her suitcase and packing it with random items like her toaster, cat litter and books. She also had thoughts of suicide.

She said she doesn’t remember driving herself to the Archie Courtnall Centre, Psychiatric Emergency Services at the Royal Jubilee Hospital.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental illness that occurs when someone is exposed to trauma involving death, threat of death, serious injury or violence.

The Canadian Mental Health Association says trauma includes length of time of the trauma, the number of traumatic experiences and the kind of support received after the events.

After 24 years as a paramedic in B.C. and Alberta, Jennings was witness to many traumatic experiences. “We see horrific things,” she said.

Between that day in June and November, Jennings made 13 trips to Archie Courtnall Centre for treatment of suicidal ideation, until her Employment Insurance medical benefits expired.

Jennings said that because she is classified as part-time, she is not entitled to long-term disability benefits or sick time.

“My employer can’t help,” she said. “My union can’t help.”

Jennings said she began having nightmares of all she had witnessed over the past years on the job she adored.

“I’ve seen some graphic stuff  – murders, shootings, stabbings,” she said.

But she was told by WorkSafe BC the event that triggered her health problems was not severe or catastrophic enough.

“PTSD is not about a triggering event,” she said, “It’s an accumulative disorder.”

The CMHA says military personnel, first responders – police, firefighters, and paramedics – doctors, and nurses have higher rates of PTSD than other professions.

Bob Parkinson, director of health and wellness for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., said paramedics have a rate two to three times higher than the general public.

“PTSD is an injury when you injure yourself in a workplace, you make changes to how you do things,” Parkinson said.

These changes include education, training and support. “We don’t have resources implemented inside our workplace,” Parkinson added.

Parkinson said due to an outdated contract, paramedics don’t have benefits that would allow access to professionals so many members go untreated.

He said submitting a claim to WorkSafe requires an assessment by a clinical psychologist. “Getting the diagnosis is only one component,” he said. “It’s a lengthy investigation and can cost up to $3,000.”

The Tema Conter Memorial Trust, an organization in Ontario aimed to raise awareness and provide education and support for first responders in Canada, says on their website 27 first responders have died by suicide since April 29.

Like many mental illnesses, there is a stigma attached to admitting you have PTSD, and Jennings said many cases go unreported.

She said because of the difficulty of proving you have PTSD, it’s hard to get the care and support needed.

“I am not the only paramedic that has been declined these benefits.”

While he didn’t have exact numbers, Parkinson said the WorkSafe denial rate is high.

He said he would like B.C. legislation to follow that of Alberta, which gives first responders presumptive coverage. This means they no longer have to prove PTSD is job-related.

Since her Employment Insurance benefits have lapsed, Jennings has had difficulty focussing on her recovery. She was behind on her rent and didn’t know how to pay for groceries and medication.

She is preparing to appeal WorkSafe’s decision so she can afford to live while rehabilitating and said she wants to take care of herself so she can return to taking care of her community.

“I never once woke up in the morning and thought ‘oh no I have to go to work’,” said Jennings. “I couldn’t wait to get there.”

To read more about Lisa Jennings and to help her recovery, please go online to gofundme.com/gq0k7w.

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Students from SD62 stepped up to help members in the community with the annual 10,000 Tonight food drive. This year’s organizers had to adapt during the campaign as COIVD-19 public health orders changed. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore students step up to make sure community members don’t go without

Students of SD62 are this year’s recipient of the Youth Volunteer Award

A cat died in this house fire in Sidney afternoon. The fire started on the house’s deck and spread from that point. Sidney Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brett Mikkelsen said the permanent presence of crews at the Community Safety Building prevented worse damage. (Photo courtesy of Clayton Firth)
Sidney house fire kills cat, causes extensive damage

Official says fire started on deck and damage to the house could have been worse

Millstream Village is welcoming a new Marshalls location March 9. (Photo courtesy GWL Realty Advisors)
New Marshalls store in Langford brings boost to women in need

Retailer will hold opening ceremony in Millstream Village March 9

Abstract Developments is donating $75,000 to support community programming at The Cridge Centre for the Family. (Courtesy of The Cridge Centre)
Victoria developer builds support for community programs

Abstract Developments donates $75,000 to The Cridge Centre for the Family

SD 62 (Sooke) has announced a COVID-19 exposure at David Cameron Elementary in Colwood. Potential exposure dates are Monday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Wednesday, Feb. 24. (Black Press Media File).
COVID-19 exposure at Colwood’s David Cameron Elementary

Potential exposure dates are Monday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, Feb. 23; and Wednesday, Feb. 24.

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

A boat caught fire in Ladysmith Harbour on Saturday morning. (Photo submitted)
Search underway for missing woman after boat catches fire in Ladysmith harbour

A large boat caught fire on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 27

Lone orca from a pod that made its way north from Georgia Strait and into Discovery Passage on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. Photo by Ella Smiley/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/Comoxvalleywildlifesightings/?ref=page_internal" target="_blank">Comox Valley Wildlife Sightings </a>
Island wildlife viewers thrilled by close view of passing Orca pod

Group gives wildlife photographers a classic opportunity to view them off Campbell River shoreline

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Most Read