Administration and Leadership, Columns, Commentary

New Paramedic Alliance Forms to Begin Addressing Key Topics & Concerns In EMS

Issue 5 and Volume 43.

New international alliance addresses key concerns in EMS

A new, international paramedic alliance has formed, comprised of the representative associations for paramedicine leadership from the major English-speaking countries around the world.

It’s called the Global Paramedic Leadership Alliance (GPLA). It includes the following organizations:

>>The National EMS Management Association (NEMSMA), representing the United States;

>>The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, from the United Kingdom;

>>The Council of Ambulance Authorities, representing New Zealand and Australia; and

>>The Paramedic Chiefs of Canada, from our neighbors to the north.

The alliance began meeting by conference call more than a year ago, discussing common interests that affect all our constituent agencies.

We considered the need for regular, international summits on major topics of concern that we believe would benefit from a world-wide collaboration.

Each association will eventually host these global confabs, bringing together the leadership of paramedicine and subject matter experts to focus on those issues that cross cultures and rise to the highest concern.

The Global Paramedic Leadership Alliance held its inaugural summit at the end of March in Warwick, England.Photo courtesy Vince Robbins

The Global Paramedic Leadership Alliance held its inaugural summit at the end of March in Warwick, England.Photo courtesy Vince Robbins

Mental Health & Suicide

One such topic is practitioner mental health and suicide. In fact, that issue was the theme of the inaugural summit held at the end of March in Warwick, England.

Each association sponsored at least ten individuals to attend and confer over two days, sharing their country’s experience on the topic.

The conference took the form of short presentations that highlighted activities in research, identification, mitigation and resolution, followed by small group discussions.

The primary objective of the group was to share current knowledge and seek out best practices.

On behalf of the U.S., NEMSMA’s practitioner wellbeing committee chair Monique Rose and members Chad Newland and Chris Caulkins each gave excellent presentations. They spoke with a deep knowledge of our experience in America and the daunting task we’ve have had addressing the issue.

They also shared with their international colleagues what we’ve done in recent years to find answers to the many questions surrounding how practitioners can maintain mental resiliency, how to identify providers at risk and how to intervene before it’s too late.

They also spoke about the Resiliency Alliance in the U.S., formed two years ago at the call of JEMS editor-in-chief A.J. Heightman.

They reviewed the Alliance’s composition, goals and activities, as well as its mission to address paramedicine practitioner mental health from the perspective of each stakeholder’s representative association.

We learned a lot at the summit. First, we learned that our friends around the world have conducted significant research on this important issue—far more than we have in the U.S.

They’ve also developed an array of tools focused on this problem. Some of these include sophisticated pre-employment screening tests that can assess a candidate’s risk level, onboarding orientation programs that address the recognition of mental stress and suicidal inclination, and rapid intervention processes which frontline managers can use to support their practitioners.

The most prominent theme, however, was the need to eliminate the stigma associated in our cultures with mental illness.

Each group spoke passionately about the evidence which clearly showed that the first step in the process to mitigate mental illness and suicidal ideation among our providers is to remove the taboo connected to the subject.

It’s imperative that our practitioners feel safe and comfortable in speaking to their employers about their mental well-being, the effect that stress is having on them, their inability to cope and their desire for help.

They must feel assured there will be no retribution, no impact on their livelihood and no shame in seeking assistance.

Developing a Joint Statement

Following the two intense days of collaboration, the associations agreed on a joint statement and strategic objectives.

The group then developed key steps for these objectives. These 10 actions provide a high-level framework to the strategy:

1. Promote a positive mental health culture in the workplace through leadership, communication, policy and procedure, environment and work/job design;

2. Reduce stigma around mental health conditions and psychological stress in the workplace;

3. Improve the mental health literacy of the workforce;

4. Develop the capability of staff to interact with and help someone experiencing a mental health crisis, from identification through to return to work;

5. Ensure that an integrated approach to mental health and well-being is woven through the workplace and that leadership at all levels model behaviors and practices that promote a mentally healthy workplace culture;

6. Share examples of best practices and effective initiatives between services;

7. Collaborate to ensure staff, during each phase of their career have adequate self-awareness, knowledge and support in relation to managing their personal mental health and psychological stressors;

8. Implement systems that provide the service with early notification of potential psychological harm related risk;

9. Collect, monitor and respond to data that evaluates the mental health and well- being of the workforce and the possibility of psychological harm occurring; and

10. Seek internal/external specialist expertise when necessary to achieve improved mental health and wellbeing outcomes for the workforce.

The steps provide high-level guidance only, and need to be interpreted and implemented in a manner that best suits the strategic purpose, operational and legislative environment and culture of each organization.

The 10 steps developed by the group clearly signal that the EMS sector believes in cultivating an emotionally safe and resilient workforce. They also demonstrate the commitment that industry leaders have to an organizational culture that allows both good physical and mental health to flourish. This investment will better enable the staff of our organization to provide the best service to their community and deliver optimum care.

Further, the group agreed to establish an internet-based collaborative forum, hosted by NEMSMA. The group will use this foum to continue to work together on the topic of practitioner mental health and well-being.

Their collective desire for continued sharing of information, research and best practices will be achieved in this way.

In addition, the group determined it will continue to meet regularly, to discuss other topics of common interest and importance.

This was a true landmark event in the history of EMS, bringing much of the world together in common cause.

It’s the first time we’ve joined an international chorus of EMS leaders to meet and work in partnership to address complex issues that we all face, and are frustratingly hard to solve. NEMSMA was proud to represent the U.S. at the table.

A Resilient Workforce: Global Paramedic Leadership Alliance mental health & well-being strategy

The members of the Global Paramedic Leadership Alliance (GPLA) recognize the essential role of mental health and well-being in achieving a resilient workforce/sector and are committed to ensuring that the mental health and wellbeing of staff (employed and volunteer) is promoted and supported.

To enable this, the members of the GPLA have recognized the need for, and agreed to an overarching strategy to guide initiatives that promote staff psychological health and minimize psychological harm due to workplace factors and support protective factors to develop mental health resilience across the workforce.

The mental health and well-being strategy of the GPLA is to proactively provide and strengthen effective leadership across paramedic services to significantly reduce the likelihood of psychological harm to staff due to workplace factors.