We need to look out for each other, regardless of rank or position

When personnel are overworked at a physically and emotionally demanding job, the blame game needs to stop and the real issues need to be identified


This article takes a long, hard look at the business practices at the well respected Austin-Travis County EMS (ATCEMS) department and the implications it has for its staff. Whether one can connect the two recent suicides of its members to the portrayed disarray of mission, leadership and vision is suspect at best; there are many factors, some unknown, that drives someone to take their own life. But I think it’s hard to deny that the stressors brought on through overworking at an emotionally and physically demanding job had some untoward influence in that tragic decision-making process.

What the article fails to ram home is this: Recognizing when one of our own is in trouble is everyone’s responsibility - management, labor and every single one of us. It becomes exceedingly dreary when labor points its blaming finger at management, and management says it’s an employee behavior issue. Please, just stop the blame game and identify the real issues at hand. Simply hiring more people will not fix the problem, as other large departments have experienced.  

Any student of organizational behavior can cite the statistic: Workplace satisfaction is not built on wages. Feeling valued and respected is. Military folks call it esprit de corps - the feelings of loyalty, enthusiasm and devotion among people who are members of a group .[1] In other words, people look out for each other, regardless of rank or position. If an EMS organization is in such rough shape that staff no longer look out for each other, it won't perform in a sustained, healthy manner.

Suicide of a co-worker should be a sentinel event for everyone. Line personnel and management alike should fully evaluate the circumstances surrounding the death, and make sure that there isn’t a trigger hidden in the work environment that another colleague may be intending to pull. Taking the time to “stand down” might provide the space necessary to come up with proactive approaches to make sure no one else is ready to make that choice. It takes time and energy to engage, but it’s a far better strategy than just playing the blame game.

What’s the bottom line? There is an increasing number of reports of EMS providers killing themselves. I’m not convinced that it points to an actual rise in suicides; I’m much more inclined to think that we are more willing to expose this issue than we have in the past, which is a good thing.

What we are failing to do though, is the follow through - how do we identify those at risk, and what can we do to minimize the chance of losing a co-worker to suicide? If we are not able to support our own in times of crisis, who else will?

Reference

1. Merriam Webster Dictionary online http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/esprit%20de%20corps

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