Caring for the mental wellness needs of EMS providers

For National Emergency Medical Services Week (May 19 – 25), we’re honoring the work that makes our EMS/Medic One system in King County world-class. Each weekday, we’ll share another way that EMS/Medic One works to save lives and help people in emergencies.

May 21 is Safety Tuesday for National Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Week. EMS safety focuses on how EMS providers should protect themselves and their patients while on the job, and promotes a culture of safety and helps reduce the number of on-the-job fatalities and injuries.

It takes a certain type of person to dedicate their lives to helping patients in their time of need. From 9-1-1 call receiving to arriving at the hospital, each call is an investment in another person’s life. This can take a toll on EMS providers’ health, not just in the moment, but also over time.

To better understand these challenges, nearly 1,000 local EMS system providers were engaged in a countywide wellness needs assessment, reviewing the health of the local EMS workforce and existing resources.

Although most respondents reported to be in good or excellent health, work-related stress was identified as a significant issue that could lead to sleep deprivation. Nearly half of first responders experienced the symptoms of depression in the past year, or a similar degree of sleep problems. In general, awareness of symptoms of stress and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was high. Less well recognized were other adverse health impacts associated with stress, such as mood changes, irritability, and feeling overwhelmed or withdrawn.

Although some resources and employee assistance programs (EAPs) are accessible, only a few reported having used existing programs. There was significant interest in having more resources and support for stress management.

In response to these findings, the King County Fire Chiefs Association and local EMS partners are advancing the development of several strategies to support local EMS providers, including fire and EMS personnel, 9-1-1 call receivers and dispatchers as well as administrative and support staff:

  • New and ongoing trainings to support mental wellness
  • New policies to improve mental wellness culture and access to resources and being implemented.
  • Building and managing a common registry of peer support counselors in King County and increasing the awareness of peer support training opportunities
  • Increasing the awareness and availability of wellness training/programs
  • Improving access to health professionals and counselors (both in person, online, and via phone)

This work in promoting EMS provider health is supported through the King County Medic One/EMS levy. Thanks to all of our EMS providers for their sacrifice and dedication to our community.

Originally posted on May 21, 2019.