Northumberland Paramedics team up with Wounded Warriors for wellness and help

By Cecilia Nasmith

Addressing stress and trauma as a result of the unique demands of their job will be easier for Northumberland Paramedics, thanks to a new partnership with Wounded Warriors Canada.

The announcement was made this week at the Cobourg paramedic station, with representatives from Wounded Warriors Canada – a registered charity that supports Canada's ill and injured military personnel,veterans, first responders and their family members with mental-health and wellness programming – in attendance.

This programming includes a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) service-dog program, couples-based equine therapy, COPE (Couples Overcoming PTSD Everyday) and BOS (Before Operational Stress).

Northumberland Paramedics Chief Bill Detlor said his team is recognized for their skills and expertise as trained professionals, but they share one special characteristic.

“It's not in the nature of first responders to stop and reflect on our personal response,” Detlor said.

“We are always pressing forward. But it's important to recognize this and encourage our team members to reach out.”

They realize the importance of having a variety of resources in place for this purpose, and that's true of the culture of Northumberland County as an employer.

Only a few uniquely talented individuals can perform such a calling, and few face such on-the-job challenges, noted Northumberland-Peterborough South MPP David Piccini's executive assistant Ralph Kerr. That's why it's important to honour their service with this fantastic new partnership.

Northumberland-Peterborough South MP Kim Rudd said the partnership with Wounded Warriors comes at a time when the stigma surrounding mental-health issues is declining – largely because it has touched the families of virtually everyone, including herself. And she was heartened and encouraged by the response of the professionals in her own family's time of need.

It's important that paramedics have the same support.

“You no longer have to suffer silence or suffer alone,” Rudd said.

“We all need to be there to support them with collaborations like this. They will help families, our veterans, our first responders and our community in general.”

Northumberland's paramedics responded to more than 2,700 calls last year, Acting Warden Bob Sanderson said, and each one affects each first responder in a different way.

“We all know first responders face extremely different conditions than we do day-to-day. Most of us really don't have any idea,” Sanderson said.

“Northumberland County strives to ensure proper measures are in place to represent and support any staff member experiencing mental-health challenges as a result of operational stress.”

Sanderson outlined several programs already in place, such as the Peer Support Program that ensure paramedics can be connected to innovative programming tailored to first responders.

“Furthermore, this support extends to family members – and that's important, since we know mental-health issues have implications for all around us,” Sanderson said.

“This partnership is another opportunity to get this dialogue up and running properly. Through this collaboration, a broader range of resources will be available to our first responders to safeguard their mental health.”

Though the stigma associated with mental-health issues is declining, he added, it's not gone.

“We all have to work on that,” he said.

As you would keep your body healthy, Sanderson continued, you should work on your mental wellness and resiliency in anticipation of traumatic events. This partnership gets that job started.

These partnerships are vital, Wounded Warriors executive director Scott Maxwell agreed. 
“No one service or organization, government or department will ever be 100% of the solution for mental-health issues,” he stated.

Maxwell was delighted to share some of the history of his organization, which began with the tragedy of soldiers returning from Afghanistan with devastating issues. But out of that, good things happened.

As operations wound down in Afghanistan in 2013, Maxwell said, the organization was transformed by the discussions around PTSD, the so-called invisible injury, and the realization that soldiers were succumbing to suicide more often than from action in open theatre.

They got a big boost when Lieutenant-General and retired senator Romeo Dallaire – for the first time – allowed his name to be associated with an organization. This was on the condition they would always work not only on the occupational stress of serving members of the military and first responders but also on the needs of their families.

COPE is now an international leader in this area, serving 300 couples through the work of 60 certified therapists.

This is just part of more than 2,000 people who came through their organization last year for this program and others like animal-assisted therapy and, most recently, BOS. Launched last June, Before Operational Stress is a proactive program aimed at establishing strength and resiliency before a crisis might happen.

They have realized it is incumbent upon them to help those who give their lives in service at home and abroad, no matter what uniform they wear, Maxwell said. That's why, in 2017, they expanded beyond helping veterans in acknowledgment of the effects of trauma and impact injuries first responders and their families are subject to.

The offer has been accepted by some 100 services and associations across the country, including Northumberland County.

Now a paramedic in need of any of the services they offer – from the proactive BOS resiliency programming to the COPE – can approach the organization (anonymously, if they prefer) and get help at no cost to them in their time of need.

Deputy Chief Susan Brown said the new partnership is another way to strengthen and support the system for their first responders.

“It provides paramedics and families with the information and education in response to the unique demands of our profession and recovery from the trauma we see,” Brown stated.