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Media 2015
 
Over the course of the past year Lisa Jennings’ story, and her efforts to have WSBC change their legislation to include a presumptive clause for first responders, has garnered a lot of support not only locally and provincially, but from all across the country. This support is in part due to the media’s interest in Lisa’s story, and others like it.
 
The following pages are some of the many media stories that have been written about the hellish journey that some first responders have encountered when entering the WSBC process, and the efforts underway to have the BC government enact a presumptive clause for those first on the scene.
 
 

  • February 2015: CBC Radio Victoria: Treatment for first responders

https://soundcloud.com/cbcvictoria/treatment-for-first-responders

  • March 7, 2015: Paramedic’s campaign collects first responders’ tales of trauma

 
Paramedic’s campaign collects first responders’ tales of trauma
Katie DeRosa / Times Colonist
March 7, 2015 08:54 PM
 
Reprinted with permission
 
Victoria paramedic Lisa Jennings has to keep busy, to keep at bay the dark thoughts that at the lowest point in her life almost drove her to kill herself. She wants PTSD recognized as a work-related hazard for first responders. 
 
Three months after the veteran paramedic went public about her struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, she has launched an email campaign, encouraging first responders to speak out and share their deeply personal stories with their MLAs.
 
Jennings’ goal is to push the B.C. government to implement “presumptive” disability legislation for PTSD in first responders, recognizing the disorder as a work-related hazard. That would make it easier for paramedics, police officers and firefighters suffering from PTSD to get compensation from WorkSafe B.C.
 
A paramedic for 24 years, Jennings has been off work since June 24, 2014, after a routine call that went awry triggered a mental-health breakdown. The 50-year-old had suicidal thoughts and flashbacks to her most horrific calls, and ended up needing treatment at the Archie Courtnall Centre psychiatric facility.
 
Jennings filed a claim for compensation with WorkSafe B.C., saying her PTSD was job-related. While her family doctor, an emergency-room physician and four psychiatrists in the Courtnall Centre told Jennings she had PTSD, WorkSafe B.C. denied the claim because her primary psychiatrist did not make that diagnosis, she said. She has requested an appeal and has submitted an independent medical report by a psychiatrist who found she has significant PTSD symptoms.
 
Jennings has sent emails to paramedics, dispatchers, police officers and firefighters, asking them to share how they’ve been affected by workplace-related mental-health trauma. But she wants her reach to extend beyond first responders to anyone who has been affected, whether it’s for themselves, a family member or someone who has needed the assistance of a firefighter, police officer or paramedic — “anybody in the community who sees that we are quiet heroes who are not getting help.”
 
In late February, Jennings and a group of other first responders met with NDP MLAs Maurine Karagianis, Judy Darcy and Shane Simpson to talk about drumming up support for presumptive disability, which has been adopted in Alberta. She brought them to tears with her plea for help.
 
Already this year, 20 first responders across Canada — five paramedics, two firefighters and 13 peace officers — have committed suicide, according to statistics gathered by the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, a research group that tracks first-responder deaths.
 
Jennings said many people are afraid they’ll be criticized or seen as weak if they admit they’re depressed or suffering from PTSD. “A lot of people don’t want to try to go get help. They’re frustrated because they’ve heard so many people get denied [WorkSafe benefits] and they’re just lost in the dark,” she said. Jennings wants the language changed in the Workers Compensation Act and a key sentence added: “It is likely that within a first responder’s duties, they will encounter horrific acts and develop a mental-health injury.”
 
Jobs Minister Shirley Bond said in a statement that legislation passed in May 2012 made B.C. the only jurisdiction that legally recognizes diagnosed, work-related mental disorders. WorkSafe B.C. created a specialized mental-health claims unit, with specially trained staff who consult with psychologists, mental-health specialists, physicians and nurses with community mental-health expertise, to manage PTSD claims, “A worker who has medical evidence about his/her PTSD being caused by work can be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits,” Bond said. But Jennings said adding the presumptive clause to the legislation removes the onus from the employee to prove that their PTSD is work-related.
 
“We don’t have to go through the hoops of proving [a mental-health injury] — it is assumed that we will have it,” she said. Jennings is hoping for a meeting with Bond and Health Minister Terry Lake. But Bond indicated Jennings’ appeal with WorkSafe B.C. might make that a problem. “My ability to hold a meeting as Labour minister is contingent on whether or not Ms. Jennings has an active appeal,” Bond said.
 
Simpson is hoping Jennings’ email campaign will spark a groundswell of public support, leading to full support in the legislature. In 2005, MLAs unanimously supported recognizing certain types of cancer as a presumptive disability for firefighters so they don’t have to prove their cancer is work-related. “I’m hoping people on both sides of the house will embrace the same view when it comes to this,” Simpson said. “At the end of the day, we’re talking about our emergency-service workers, our first responders. We’re talking about health issues that we believe are driven from their occupation … so we have a responsibility to them.”
 
kderosa@timescolonist.com
 

  • PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPPORT PROGRAM REVAMPED

 
B.C. Ambulance Service has begun rolling out training workshops for supervisors on how to recognize symptoms of critical-incident stress. The supervisors, or unit chiefs, will be given an information package about mental health that they can distribute to paramedics and dispatchers, said Julie Wengi, B.C. Ambulance’s executive director of human resources.
 
In December, the ambulance authority announced an overhaul of its psychological support for paramedics after acknowledging it has not done enough to help employees cope with the traumas they experience every day. B.C. Ambulance has hired clinical psychologist Dr. Georgia Nemetz, who provides clinical oversight for several B.C. police departments, and Vancouver police Insp. Jess Ram, who helped set up the department’s critical-incident-stress-management team. The ambulance service also plans to hire a critical-incident stress co-ordinator to work with Nemetz and Ram to improve the avenues for responding to work-related stress and mental illness, including debriefing sessions and peer support.
 
Nemetz said a debriefing session is necessary for first responders after a major incident such as “multiple-vehicle fatalities in a car accident, suicide of a colleague, death of a child, a police-involved shooting, all of those big ticket items will be debriefed.” “It is an opportunity for sharing of emotion, sharing of coping strategies, education for the members involved,” she said.
 
First responders are often reluctant to admit they need help because “it goes against a lot of their training, which is you emotionally compartmentalize and you move on,” Nemetz said. “But enough people are having issues and are seeing their colleagues have psychological issues that they know this job takes a toll on them.”
 
Wengi said said many employees have expressed support for the new program. “We got validation that this is what the organization needs and what the employees need,” Wengi said.
— Katie DeRosa
© Copyright Times Colonist
 

  • April 7, 2015: Victoria paramedic’s PTSD plea inspires others’ stories

http://www.youarenotaloneptsdbc.ca/in-the-media/victoria-paramedics-ptsd-plea-inspires-others-stories/
Victoria paramedic’s PTSD plea inspires others’ stories
Katie DeRosa / Times Colonist
April 7, 2015 06:00 AM  
 
Reprinted with permission
 
Victoria paramedic Lisa Jennings wants PTSD recognized as a work-related hazard for first responders. Photograph By ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist
 
Victoria paramedic Lisa Jennings has received many emails and letters since she spoke out about her experience with post-traumatic stress disorder — an elderly woman wrote about her husband, who was a long-time police officer who took his own life, and a woman wrote to say her son likely wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for the help of first responders. But there was one letter that stood out: a handwritten note on yellow, lined paper, with no name or return address. Jennings — who once considered suicide during her lowest point — read the carefully written words and could see it was a cry for help.
 
Something in the letter sparked her memory and Jennings was sure she knew the woman. She searched through her email and found a contact for a 911 dispatcher she had talked to in the past. Her instinct was right and the two have connected, trading war stories, showing their battle scars, leaning on each other for support. Jennings said every person involved in a 911 call, from the dispatcher to the police, firefighters and paramedics, feels its effects.
 
“Through it all, the very first responder is your 911 operator. But sometimes, they get lost in the shuffle. It’s a team effort,” Jennings said. “We are here 24/7, 365 days of the year to help everyone, every taxpayer, every citizen of B.C., without question. … Who’s taking care of us when we’re down?”
 
It’s been a month since Jennings launched an email campaign encouraging first responders to share their experiences with PTSD with their MLAs, and she’s heard from dozens of people supportive of her cause. The goal of the campaign is to pressure the B.C. government to implement “presumptive” disability legislation for PTSD in first responders, recognizing the disorder as a work-related hazard. That would make it easier for paramedics, police officers and firefighters suffering from PTSD to get compensation from WorkSafe B.C.
 
NDP MLAs Maurine Karagianis, Judy Darcy and Shane Simpson are calling on the governing Liberals to amend the legislation, similar to 2005 reforms that recognized several types of cancer as a presumptive disability for firefighters.
 
Jennings said she talked to the woman whose husband, a former police officer, died by suicide. The woman now lives in a seniors’ home up-Island. “She said [his depression] was never really talked about in their home,” Jennings said. “It’s only just starting to be talked about.”
 
Jennings has also been emailing mayors across B.C., trying to get municipal councils to support presumptive disability legislation.
 
A paramedic for 24 years, she has been unable to work since June 24, 2014, after a routine call that went awry triggered a mental-health breakdown that included suicidal thoughts and flashbacks to her most horrific calls. Jennings, 50, filed a claim for compensation with WorkSafe B.C., saying her PTSD was job-related. WorkSafe B.C. has so far denied her claim, saying her primary psychiatrist did not diagnose PTSD. She has requested an appeal and submitted an independent medical report by a psychiatrist who found she has significant PTSD symptoms.
 
Already this year in Canada, seven first responders — five paramedics and two firefighters — and three military members have died by suicide, according to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, a Toronto-based research group that tracks first-responder deaths. Jennings said those statistics don’t include another 10 peace officers (including police, corrections officers and border security) who have taken their own lives, numbers she compiled by looking through news stories across the country.
 
On April 1, hundreds of people showed up for the funeral of Surrey firefighter Kevin Haggerty, who took his own life in March after years of struggling with PTSD. Haggerty was a champion for better supports for firefighters battling the emotional toll of their job until those emotions became unbearable for him.
 
Jobs Minister Shirley Bond has said B.C. is already addressing PTSD in the workplace, through amendments to the Workers Compensation Act in July 2012 that give access to workers’ compensation benefits to those with medical evidence that their PTSD was caused by work.
 
kderosa@timescolonist.com
 Copyright Times Colonist
 

  • April 8, 2015: Lisa interviewed by Jill Kropp on BC 1

http://www.youarenotaloneptsdbc.ca/in-the-media/lisa-interviewed-by-jill-kropp-on-bc-1/
Lisa interviewed by Jill Kropp on BC 1
http://globalnews.ca/video/1928775/paramedic-lisa-jennings-battle-with-ptsd
 
April 8 2015 9:52pm on BC 1’s Unfiltered
In this interview Lisa explains why a presumptive clause is needed for first responders in BC, and how AB’s new presumptive clause can be used as a framework, but needs to made better. Had such legislation been in place, Surrey firefighter Kevin Hagerty—who committed suicide in March 2015 due to PTSD—would have had the necessary follow-up after his return to work from his mental health injury.
 
http://globalnews.ca/video/1928775/paramedic-lisa-jennings-battle-with-ptsd 

  • April 24, 2015: Global News: Presumptive Campaign Underway

http://www.youarenotaloneptsdbc.ca/in-the-media/global-news-presumptive-campaign-underway/
 
Global News: Presumptive Campaign Underway
April 24 2015 11:18pm on the News Hour BC
This is a piece that ran on the efforts currently underway to get the government to recognize the need for a presumptive clause.
  

  • April 27, 2015: Paramedic Network News: Synopsis of CKNW interview with Lisa Jennings

http://www.youarenotaloneptsdbc.ca/in-the-media/paramedic-network-news-notices-us/
 
Paramedic Network News Notices Us
April 27, 2015 on Paramedic Network News
CANADA NEWS
 ** A British Columbia paramedic, who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is lobbying the government to create specific legislation compensating medics suffering from the condition. CKNW AM (April 25) said Lisa Jennings said the law would allow for more immediate treatment and financial help for those struggling with the disorder. Although some provincial assistance already exists, Jennings said it is inadequate and does not kick in in a timely manner. In response to her quest, Jobs Minister Shirly [sic] Bond was dismissive. Bond said a fair process has already been put into place to deal with such matters.
 
The Paramedic Network News is a news source for paramedics from around the globe. They produce original text daily, and make it available to pre-hospital care professionals through their website.
 

  • June 11, 2015: Victoria dispatcher grapples with guilt after officer hurt on duty

http://www.youarenotaloneptsdbc.ca/in-the-media/victoria-dispatcher-grapples-with-guilt-after-officer-hurt-on-duty/
 
Victoria dispatcher grapples with guilt after officer hurt on duty
Katie DeRosa / Times Colonist
June 11, 2015 06:00 AM
 
Reprinted with permission
 
The 2011 stabbing of Victoria police Const. Lane Douglas-Hunt dominated headlines as the case wound its way through the court system. Tania McClelland, with her dog, Jack, met Jobs Minister Shirley Bond to talk about better services for first responders who file a mental-health claims with WorkSafe B.C. Photograph By ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist But the story that hasn’t been told is that of the police dispatcher who sent the 25-year-old officer to what came in as a routine shoplifting call at a downtown 7-Eleven on Jan. 17, 2011. Tania McClelland said she blames herself for sending Douglas-Hunt into danger, and is on sick leave from the Victoria Police Department as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder. Douglas-Hunt’s neck and ear were injured in the knife attack. Her left hand was badly cut and her thumb almost severed.
 
[Scroll down to see surveillance video of the attack]
 
“I will always feel guilty,” said McClelland, 48. “I sent her into that call alone. If I didn’t send her to that call, it never would have happened.” McClelland shared her emotional story with Jobs Minister Shirley Bond last week, part of a meeting with first responders who are pushing for improvements in the way WorkSafe B.C. deals with mental-health injury claims. “At the end of the meeting, she bent down to talk to me and she had genuine tears,” McClelland said. “I saw the empathy in her.”
 
Bond was not available for an interview, but released a statement. “I will continue to look for improvements that can be made to the current system of supports for injured workers to ensure they receive appropriate care,” Bond said. “I am always concerned about injured workers and I appreciated having a chance to hear from the delegation. “I recognize how hard it was for them to share their personal stories and the courage it takes to come forward.”
 
McClelland and the group of paramedics, firefighters and police officers who attended the meeting are asking for psychological supports to kick in as soon as a mental-health claim is filed with WorkSafe B.C. “That’s where I fell through the cracks,” McClelland said.
 
McClelland’s injury claim to WorkSafe B.C. was initially denied, then accepted after a review. She said her request for a certified service dog to assist with her PTSD was denied and it took nine months for funding to be approved so McClelland could attend group therapy. “It’s been a battle since Day 1,” she said.
 
Jennifer Leyen, WorkSafe B.C.’s director of special care services and disability awards, said she understands McClelland’s frustration. “I do see there was a delay between January 2013 [when group therapy was requested] and September 2013 when she actually got into the program,” said Leyen, who was authorized to speak directly about the compensation claim because McClelland gave permission. “It did take a long time and I will acknowledge that.”
 
McClelland’s request for a certified service dog was turned down because “right now there isn’t the clinical or the medical evidence that this is a therapeutic intervention, that having a service dog helps people get better,” Leyen said. WorkSafe B.C. is looking closely at a Veterans Affairs Canada pilot project looking at whether service dogs assist those with PTSD.
 
Leyen said services for workers with mental-health injuries have improved since McClelland filed her claim. In 2012, legislation was passed to legally recognize diagnosed work-related mental disorders. WorkSafe B.C. created a specialized mental-health claims unit, with specially trained staff who consult with psychologists, mental-health specialists, physicians and nurses with community mental-health expertise, to manage PTSD claims. “Now we have a much more extensive range of programs for PTSD clients,” Leyen said. “We have much more awareness of the kinds of treatment that these patients need.”
 
McClelland relies on the group meetings and the companionship of her German shepherd, Jack, who is not a certified service dog. After McClelland’s claim was denied in 2011, she went back to work in the Victoria police communications centre for 15 months, but realized she was still suffering emotionally. “I started collapsing, but I had to keep going because I had two kids at home, bills to pay,” she said. “The kids suffered the worst through the whole thing. They didn’t have a mom. I wasn’t cooking, wasn’t cleaning, I was taking prescribed pain killers to numb the pain.” McClelland had suicidal thoughts and in June 2012 stopped working. In January 2013, she tried to take an online training course to be a court reporter but she had trouble concentrating. She is now focusing on her recovery through group and one-on-one counselling.
 
The first responders are also pushing for B.C. to follow Alberta’s lead and implement “presumptive” disability legislation for mental-health injuries in first responders, recognizing the disorder as a work-related hazard. That would make it easier for paramedics, police officers and firefighters suffering from PTSD to get compensation from WorkSafe B.C.
 
At the meeting with Bond, Lisa Jennings — a Victoria paramedic who went public with her experience with PTSD and has since launched an online support group for first responders called You Are Not Alone — handed over a stack of support letters from police associations, firefighter associations and city councils from across the province. “I think we made progress,” said Jennings, who has twice had her compensation claim denied by WorkSafe B.C. She is now bringing the case to a tribunal.
 
NDP MLAs Maurine Karagianis, Judy Darcy and Shane Simpson had a meeting with Jennings and other first responders in February and are backing their cause. On Monday, Manitoba introduced presumptive disability legislation for PTSD. Ontario and New Brunswick are set to follow suit.
 
McClelland said she regrets telling her employer about her struggle with PTSD, which resulted in the battle with WorkSafe B.C. “I wish I had never come forward, it’s made it worse,” she said, a sign that the supports for workers with mental-health injuries are not yet there. “All I know is that things have to change.”
 
kderosa@timescolonist.com
Video
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87wK_jdvd_s
 

  • July 8, 2015: Lisa interviewed by CanadaCitizensForum

http://www.youarenotaloneptsdbc.ca/in-the-media/citizens-forum-discusses-ptsd-worksafebc-first-responders/
 
Citizen’s Forum Discusses PTSD, WorksafeBC, & First Responders
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUyeeQ20BiY
 
Published July 8, 2015 By the CanadaCitizensForum
In this interview, youarenotaloneptsdbc’s founder, Lisa Jennings, discusses PTSD among first responders and the BC Government/WorksafeBC support for those suffering from PTSD.
 

  • August 11, 2015: Lisa interviewed on News Talk 980 CKNW

http://www.youarenotaloneptsdbc.ca/in-the-media/interview-on-news-talk-980-cknw/
 
Interview On News Talk 980 CKNW
August 11, 2015 02:43 pm on News Talk 980 CKNW
 Chantal Coschizza
 
Renewed plea for treatment for first responders with PTSD
This group’s founder was interviewed by CKNW regarding our on-going lobbying efforts to have WorksafeBC recognize PTSD as a potentially life-threatening condition for first responders…
 
A paramedic and the founder of the “You are not alone” PTSD group is worried not enough is being done to help first responders suffering from PTSD. Lisa Jennings says a presumptive clause from the B.C. government could save the lives of first responders. Jennings says currently, first responders must prove they are suffering from PTSD before receiving support.
 
“From 2012 to the 36 months after that, over one thousand mental health injury claims were given to Work Safe. 114 of them were of the paramedic category, and only 31 were compensated. ”She adds living with PTSD can be extremely debilitating, and isolating. “It’s a job where these individuals truly are passionate about helping individuals. When they’re sick or scared or frightened or in danger or their house is burning down, we’re there for them. But when we’re sick there’s absolutely nobody willing to help us.”
 
Jennings would like PTSD to be talked about as a legitimate work place injury.
 
Note: The original article stated that: “From 2012 to the 16 months after that, over one thousand mental health injury claims were given to Work Safe.” That was a typo. The correct number is in fact 36 months, which we corrected in this reprint.
 

  • October 21, 2015: CBC Radio Vancouver: WorkSafe BC on PTSD in first responders

http://www.youarenotaloneptsdbc.ca/in-the-media/worksafe-bc-on-ptsd-cbc-radio/
 
WorkSafe BC on PTSD – CBC Radio
October 21, 2015,
WorkSafe BC on PTSD in first responders 
 
In this interview Ms. Jennifer Leyen, Director of Special Care Services for WorkSafe BC, explains the insurance system’s process regarding mental health injuries in first responders, and how WorkSafe BC has set up an “expedited psychological assessment process” so that they can get a report in within 10 days. Ultimately WorkSafe’s goal is to have a decision within 30 days.
 
CBC Radio News
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/programs/theearlyedition/worksafe-bc-on-ptsd-1.3282203
 
Our group’s founder, Lisa Jennings, offers up the following comment regarding Ms. Leyen’s interview:
In the hundreds of first responders, and/or their family and friends—both alive and those who took their own lives—not one person’s claim took only 30 days. It is never that easy.These mental health injury claims from first responders are averaged out to be 2 years a claim, and require up to a minimum of three psychological reports.
 
I am calling upon Ms. Leyen to be transparent: Let’s see those statistics, because the ones that are “on the record” say otherwise.
 
Lisa Jennings, Founder, You Are Not Alone PTSD BC
 

  • December 13, 2014: Post-traumatic stress takes toll on paramedics

 http://www.youarenotaloneptsdbc.ca/in-the-media/post-traumatic-stress-takes-toll-on-paramedics/
 
Post-traumatic stress takes toll on paramedics
Katie DeRosa / Times Colonist
December 13, 2014 10:15 PM
 
Reprinted with permission
Paramedic Lisa Jennings filed a claim with WorkSafe B.C. saying she’s entitled to compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, caused by her line of work. Photograph By ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist
 
B.C. Ambulance Service is overhauling its psychological support for paramedics struggling with the emotional stress of their jobs after acknowledging it has not done enough to help employees cope with the traumas they see every day. “What we realize is the stress our employees are under because the nature of their job is quite different to a lot of other workforces,” said Julie Wengi, B.C. Ambulance’s executive director of human resources. “We are hoping that this provides a level of support that our paramedics haven’t had in the past.”
 
Two Vancouver Island paramedics, Lisa Jennings and Joanne Trofanenko, told the Times Colonist they have post-traumatic stress disorder related to experiences in their jobs, but there are many more suffering in silence.
 
Bob Parkinson, health and wellness director for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. union, said an estimated 25 to 30 per cent of paramedics suffer from PTSD, a much higher rate than for other professions. The proposed changes by B.C. Ambulance include an educational campaign for senior managers and staff. “We realized it was something that we didn’t have in place,” Wengi said.
 
The ambulance service will also bring in a clinical psychologist who specializes in critical incidents and paramedic operational stress scenarios to provide support after traumatic incidents, either through debriefing sessions or one-on-one. The measures will be introduced in the new year, and Wengi hopes the whole program is running within six months. But Jennings and Trofanenko want the province to take action to support paramedics financially. Both are fighting for compensation from WorkSafe B.C.
 
B.C. NDP health critic Judy Darcy wants B.C. to follow Alberta in adopting presumptive disability legislation for PTSD in first responders. That would make it easier for paramedics, police officers and firefighters to get compensation from WorkSafe B.C. as they wouldn’t have to prove their PTSD was work-related. It is assumed to be a hazard related to the job. “For ambulance paramedics, don’t we need to recognize that there could be a cumulative effect of these kinds of [traumatic] incidents and experiencing it time and time again?” Darcy asked. “I think we do.”
 
Parkinson said WorkSafe B.C. should treat mental injury as seriously as physical injury.
 
•  •  •
 
In her 24 years as a paramedic, Lisa Jennings witnessed the aftermath of dozens of horrific tragedies: Murders, fatal car crashes, infant deaths. But it was a routine call — a woman with chest pains — that triggered the 49-year-old Esquimalt resident’s mental-health crisis, leading to suicidal thoughts, flashbacks and stays at the Archie Courtnall Centre psychiatric facility.
 
Jennings and her partner attended the call on June 15. Two other paramedics arrived and Jennings was disturbed by how one of the paramedics was treating the patient. She said the verbal abuse was so bad that the patient filed a complaint. She could not get the incident out of her head for several days. “Every patient that is in my care gets the utmost respect, from the homeless to [patients in] the Uplands,” Jennings said. “When I saw what was going on, I couldn’t fathom medical personnel treating someone like that. That was my trigger.” Afterward, Jennings said, she felt sick all the time and started having nightmares about the call, which quickly worsened into nightmares and flashbacks about more traumatic calls. “I’ve seen murders, stabbings, gunshot wounds, infant deaths, children thrown from vehicles,” Jennings said, fighting back tears. “I have seen some horrific things in my life.”
 
Four hours into a shift on June 24, Jennings felt so angry she couldn’t concentrate, so she booked off sick. She hasn’t been back. Jennings is now unable to work, ineligible for extended medical benefits through her employer because she was a part-time employee (despite often working full-time hours). She filed a claim with WorkSafe B.C. saying that she’s entitled to compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, caused by her line of work. While her family doctor and an emergency-room physician told Jennings she has PTSD, WorkSafe B.C. denied the claim because her primary psychiatrist did not make that diagnosis, she said.
 
According to WorkSafe documents, the psychiatrist “advised that the worker did have PTSD-like symptoms but that there had been no ‘catastrophic event.’ ” WorkSafe B.C. said it will accept that a succession of incidents can lead to PTSD, but the disorder must be diagnosed by a qualified clinician, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. “Whether their claim is accepted or not, these are people with stress in their lives. We treat them with respect and compassion,” said spokesman Scott McCloy, noting that it’s necessary for WorkSafe to conduct a follow-up investigation to verify claims.
 
Jennings has requested an appeal and has sought the opinion of another psychiatrist. She also contacted Joanne Trofanenko, a B.C. Ambulance paramedic based in Port Alberni who is suffering from PTSD.
 
Trofanenko was first on the scene after an ambulance plunged over a cliff into Kennedy Lake on Oct. 19, 2010, killing both paramedics inside. Her close friend, Joanne Fuller, was the driver. Trofanenko was diagnosed with PTSD in 2013, but her claim was denied by WorkSafe because she didn’t file it within a year of the incident.
 
She remembers the feelings of helplessness, the depression and suicidal thoughts. In her darkest days, she contacted a paramedic in New Brunswick who went public with his PTSD struggle. She’s glad she could be that person for Jennings. “When I first talked to her, initially it was just heartbreaking because I identified so much with her story,” said Trofanenko, who now has a service dog to help with her PTSD.
 
Jennings said it was the first time she felt she was not alone. “It was a feeling that somebody gets this.”
 
Vince Savoia, executive director of the Tema Conter Foundation, an Ontario-based organization that advocates for first responders suffering from PTSD, said that while there’s been a national dialogue about suicides among Canadian Forces personnel, first responders such as paramedics are still off the radar. Savoia said anyone who wants to understand why a paramedic might be suffering emotionally should ask themselves one question: How many tragedies have you experienced in your lifetime?“Paramedics see it every single day. They witness people’s tragedy every single day.” Savoia said it’s common for paramedics to be traumatized by certain incidents, but they keep working because they can’t get the help they need. “It comes down to funding and how much willingness, how much support the British Columbia government is going to offer their first responders financially,” he said.
 
B.C. NDP health critic Judy Darcy is pushing for “presumptive disability” legislation for PTSD, similar to what Alberta passed in 2012. It means first responders don’t have to prove their PTSD is work-related because it’s assumed the claims are the result of traumatic work-related incidents. In the current system, Darcy said, the onus is on individuals to prove their PTSD is related to the workplace, a process that can renew the trauma.
 
Bob Parkinson, health and wellness director for the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. union, said an estimated 25 to 30 per cent of paramedics suffer from PTSD. Paramedics’ benefits cover short-term counselling, but not the type of prolonged treatment necessary to treat PTSD, Parkinson said. “Our benefits package is dismal when it comes to mental health.”
 
Julie Wengi, B.C. Ambulance’s executive director of human resources, said the organization will roll out a new program in January. “We recognized we weren’t doing as much as we could for our employees in terms of their psychological support.”
 
B.C. Ambulance’s current program includes a group of trained paramedics and dispatchers who can provide immediate support after a critical incident. Starting in January, a clinical psychologist specializing in critical incidents and first responder or paramedic operational stress scenarios will be available to provide support during debriefing sessions or one-on-one. There will also be a training, education and awareness program on critical incidents and PTSD that will be offered to staff and senior managers. “One of the things that struck us quite solidly when we announced this review on the psychological support structure … was the number of paramedics who reached out to us, they said this is well overdue, we definitely need this,” Wengi said.
 
Jennings said she’s encouraged by the proposed improvements and hopes it will open up a dialogue that makes other paramedics feel more comfortable in asking for help. “There’s so much stigma and shame to go forward and to say you have it,” Jennings said. “PTSD is not a one-incident disease, it is a cumulative disease.”
 
Jennings’ neighbour, Teya Danel, has organized an online donation page to help Jennings deal with the financial stress of being off work. “She’s helped so many people in her career. Now she no one and is in need of help herself,” Danel said. To donate,  visit http://www.gofundme.com/gq0k7w

kderosa@timescolonist.com
© Copyright Times Colonist


You Are Not Alone PTSD BC...we have your backs...do you have ours?