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EMS chief responds to union criticism over working conditions

Niagara EMS Chief Kevin Smith said he was “quite shocked” when he was accused of committing “bullying and demeaning behavior” against EMS providers


Niagara EMS Chief Kevin Smith said the agency is working hard to get EMS providers the help they need to deal with stress.


By EMS1 Staff

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ontario — An EMS chief who was slammed in a scathing union report on working conditions responded, saying he was “quite shocked.”

A Canadian Union of Public Employees report said the “bullying and demeaning behavior committed against paramedics and dispatchers by Niagara EMS management,” has resulted in the largest number of staff members on stress leave in the province, The Standard reported.

“The people of the Niagara region deserve to have paramedics and dispatchers who are at the top of their game when there’s an emergency,” union President Mark Hancock said in the statement. “The regional council needs to start asking hard questions about who the EMS management team is actually serving, because when you look at the state they’re forcing their employees to work in, it certainly isn’t workers or the people of this region.”

Currently, 24 of the agency’s 375 EMS providers and dispatchers are on stress leave, and NEMS Chief Kevin Smith said the number is probably a result of programs that have been put in place to provide staff members with the help they need.

“We’ve taken a very strong stance on mental wellness within our workplace,” Smith said. “We started formal training going back as far as 2012 to 2013.”

He added that the agency has worked to reduce the stigma of dealing with post-trauma stress.

“We’re saying it’s OK to come forward and ask for help. You’re not going to be shunned by your peers. You’re not going to be ostracized by your employer,” he said. “This job is stressful enough to begin with. We don’t need stressed out people working in a stressful environment. We need to get them the help that they need.”

The CUPE report also said NEMS was “forcing paramedics and dispatchers to work exhausted and understaffed,” and Smith said EMS agencies across Ontario are seeing “huge increases in workload and call volumes.”

“The challenges being faced today are extreme, as far as mental health issues that we see in the community, and then how that transcends to our own mental health as care providers,” he said.

Smith added that NEMS’ initiatives have put them in a better position than other agencies, and he hopes to “do even more.”

“We’re fortunate to have a system where we can better preserve and manage these precious resources,” he said. “This is something we’re working very strongly on. When I talk to chiefs around the province I get a sense that there are good things happening, but maybe not to the extent that we’re doing here in Niagara.”

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