Cleveland paramedics need help in dealing with mental health issues associated with job

Posted at 5:10 PM, Jun 17, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-18 15:14:48-04

The union that represents Cleveland's paramedics is demanding the city's EMS administrators offer more help in dealing with the mental health issues associated with the job.

"The general mindset is that I'll just have to deal with it on my own," said Jon Wearstler, a paramedic and sergeant at arms for EMS C.A.R.E. I.L.A. Local 1975. "They [the administers] will tell me 'no' anyway."

Wearstler said the city's paramedics are constantly pressured to go onto the next call. According to C.A.R.E., the 911 calls into Cleveland continue to increase each year while staff has not. 

Wearstler said the constant EMS calls pose a problem to workers who experience trauma on the job and need to take time immediately after the incident to talk and reflect on what they experienced.

"We can become patients too, just like anybody else," he added.

"Being able to talk about it and process it early on is a great resilience builder," said Dr. Lori Stevic-Rust, a psychologist. "You're a human first and a first responder second."

Wearstler and his colleagues are asking that EMS administrators check in on paramedics especially after difficult calls. Wearstler is also forming a peer support program for colleagues to counsel one another.

"A lot of this job is about bearing witness to the tragedies and day-to-day events," he added.

Wearstler said he started to suffer from depression after responding to a call in which five people were found murdered inside an east side home in November of 2014. He eventually sought outside help.

"I spent a lot of time driving back and forth to work in tears," he said. "I was lashing out, both on duty and off duty."

The City of Cleveland declined NewsChannel 5's request for an interview. But a spokesman sent this statement:

The Department of Public Safety and the Division of EMS take great care to ensure that employees and immediate family members have access to multiple resources to address mental health concerns.  EMT’s and paramedics encounter a great deal of difficult situations that test their physical and mental fitness.  Experienced Department of Public Safety Employee Assistance Professionals (EAP) are available to EMS personnel 24/7 to immediately respond upon request. These professionals provide referrals, consultation and support to employees.
In addition, the Department of Public Safety has a licensed stress consultant available 24/7 to provide counseling, referrals and support.  The City of Cleveland has a contract with the organization Ease at Work that provides resources for employees such as professional counseling for work and non-work related issues such as; financial, marital, child care, drug/alcohol use and abuse, etc. 
All of these services and resources are provided free of charge to all our employees and their immediate family.