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Mental Health of EMS Providers: It Is a Concern  

After a restless night with very little sleep, the alarm starts blaring relentlessly at 0530. Time to start the day!

The drive to work is uneventful. You arrive at the station tired but in a decent mood when you discover who your partner is for the shift. Units are checked and you have some time to talk and complete unfinished paperwork. It’s a good day so far. That changes the moment the manager arrives. You can tell what kind of day it’s going to be by the way she walked through the door, never stopping to acknowledge either of you sitting in the office. Next thing you know, both of you are tasked with station chores expected to be completed by you or a select few coworkers, but no one else.

Day in and day out this routine continues along with the normal stress from calls, which may lead to bad choices at the end of the day affecting your physical health. If that’s not bad enough, there are times you have to interact with hospital employees, including staff that do not work in the emergency department, who believe they know more about our job than we do.

A call that stands out to me is one where my crew and I transported an infant in cardiac arrest. The emergency room team continued to work the code after our arrival. As I stood watching, my eyes filled with tears, a respiratory therapist nearby said coldly, “You need to keep it together.” She had no idea what this call had been like; what we did and saw—the unkempt home, the seeming lack of concern from some family members while others were hysterical, the shouts of blame, asking us why the treatment wasn’t working. Sadly, much of the public and even some hospital employees feel they know what EMS does based on TV shows. They don’t understand why our treatment options are different from what they watch.

The frustration and anger we experience are kept inside and continue growing, stealing precious time that should be used for making memories with family or doing things you enjoy. Many providers deal with this kind of harassment quietly, ultimately leading to mistakes, health issues, lack of sleep, low self-esteem, or worse. I often hear providers mentioning they are not just tired, but exhausted. The general public doesn’t understand this because they don’t see the crews going on calls. Some have questioned why crew members who work at units with low call volume are tired. Even though the call volume might be lower, providers often don’t disclose they have just completed a 12-hour shift elsewhere because they have to work more than one job to make a decent living.

Thankfully, the day of the infant cardiac arrest, the attending physician told the respiratory therapist, “Until you walk a day in their boots, you need to keep your comments to yourself, as you have no idea what they go through on a daily basis.” 

When we think of provider wellness, I’m hoping we don’t discount mental health, since it’s a large part of our overall health. To those providers who are going through events like these, I hope you have someone to help get you through. I hope you realize how valuable you are and that you never give up. To those managers who only focus on their dream teams: One day your handful of followers and the rest you disregard will wake up and choose to follow a new leader—one who will provide a happy, fair environment, and you will find yourselves very alone.

Let me end with a quote: “A bad manager can take a great staff and destroy it, causing the best employees to flee and the remainder to lose all motivation.” —Unknown.

Sandy Roth, EMT-P, CPT  is a paramedic with Wellspan Ephrata Community Hospital Advanced Life Support Unit. She is certified as a personal trainer, children's fitness specialist and Silver Sneakers and group exercise instructor. She teaches high intensity interval training and Silver Sneakers Classes as well as fitness classes for EMS and fire personnel specialized to the tasks they do on a daily basis.

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