In a candid conversation at the Fernforest Reporting Station in Brampton, Mandy Johnston, superintendent of Peel Paramedic Services, sheds light on the ongoing efforts to combat violence within the paramedic profession. The External Violence Against Peel Paramedics (EVAP) program, under Johnston's leadership, is transforming the way violent incidents are reported and tackled in the field.
A Harsh Reality and the Call for Change
Johnston, a veteran member of Peel’s paramedic service since 2005, has been on a relentless mission to reshape the culture surrounding workplace violence. Johnston reveals, "The examples I use with council and anytime I speak to the media, to be honest, are very PG compared to the reality because what we're experiencing can't even be published, or it can't be said on a live feed."
Cultivating Change Through EVAP
Johnston, at the helm of the EVAP program, has firsthand knowledge of the harrowing situations faced by paramedics. The culture of accepting violence as "part of the job" has persisted for years, not just in Peel, but across the industry. Verbal and physical assaults, as well as instances of harassment, have left paramedics emotionally impacted and physically harmed.
Challenging the Status Quo
Johnston's tireless efforts have already started to yield results. EVAP has created a platform for paramedics to document incidents of violence, aiming to expose the extent of the problem. In the first half of 2022 alone, Peel Paramedics reported 249 violent incidents—more than one per day. However, it's suspected that many cases go unreported due to the daunting nature of speaking up.
A Step Towards Change: Prevention Strategies
Recognizing the complexity of the issue, Johnston acknowledges that change won't come easily. Yet, she has diligently worked to develop and implement strategies to prevent violence against paramedics. By sharing the concerns and stories of her colleagues with the Regional council in 2019, Johnston kick-started a vital conversation about the necessity for change.
A Catalyst for Transformation
Johnston recalls a pivotal incident that prompted her to spearhead EVAP's creation. An incident involving a patient's family member resulted in her partner being strangled, revealing the urgent need to address workplace violence. She comments, "It was hurtful to see that people that you care about... were being treated in this way, but also that it was having such an emotional or psychological impact on them."
The Ongoing Struggle
The disturbing statistics only underscore the urgency of addressing the problem. A 2019 study found that 80% of Peel paramedics experienced physical violence at work. The research also highlighted instances of verbal abuse, intimidation, and sexual harassment, painting a grim picture of the culture within the industry.
Empowerment Through Voice
Johnston's commitment to change has given paramedics a voice. EVAP's reporting tool has allowed paramedics to anonymously share their experiences, revealing the disturbing reality they face daily. Female paramedics, in particular, have been subjected to explicit and degrading language, revealing a stark gender disparity in the treatment of paramedics.
Aiming for Transformation
Despite the challenges, Johnston remains steadfast in her mission. The profession's ethical responsibility to provide care under all circumstances often places paramedics in vulnerable situations. Yet, this should not excuse violence. Johnston asserts, "It's a real conflict... You're being told that it's a normal or expected part of the job and that nothing can be done about it, and you're still trying to care for the person doing that to you."
In the face of adversity, Johnston and the EVAP program continue their journey towards creating a safer and more respectful environment for paramedics. As the call for change grows louder, the hope is that systemic workplace violence will be a relic of the past in paramedic services.