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Whitehorse ambulance services need resuscitation: former attendant

The paramedic leapt across the Whitehorse ambulance station and slammed his supervisor’s head into the wall.

The paramedic leapt across the Whitehorse ambulance station and slammed his supervisor’s head into the wall.

It was slammed into a few more walls amidst the punches before the pair ended up on the ground.

“He choked him until he was cyanotic and almost not breathing,” former ambulance attendant Craig Battaglia told the News this week.

“Three other attendants had to pull him off.

“There was blood from one end of the station to the other.”

The fight happened on May 20, 2007.

Police were called, and the supervisor ended up in the hospital for stitches.

The attendant was given an eight-shift suspension, said Battaglia.

“The incident was not reported to (the Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board).”

And staff were told to “downplay the incident,” he said.

Some of the staff who witnessed it are suffering from post-traumatic stress, he added.

Battaglia worked at the Whitehorse ambulance station for five years.

“I was the outspoken voice,” he said.

In March 2006, Battaglia, who was the union rep, was fired after winning a harassment suit against his supervisor.

“But this guy beats the shit out of the (same supervisor) and only gets an eight-shift suspension.”

Morale is low at the ambulance station, said Battaglia, sitting in his Porter Creek home on Tuesday morning.

The intimidation and harassment is getting to the staff, he said.

The station is short-staffed, there is a lack of management and staff are being harassed, said one attendant who asked to remain anonymous.

The attendant was forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement before getting the job.

“Some things are so broken there I don’t know if they will ever be able to be fixed,” said the paramedic.

“The interim medevac manager changes weekly. They basically flip a coin to see whose turn it is this week.”

And the ground ambulance manager position is empty, said the attendant.

With paramedics travelling to Watson Lake and Dawson to help fill the void after volunteer attendants walked off the job last month, the staff shortage is exacerbated, said the attendant.

The Whitehorse ambulance base is suffering from a lack of leadership, intimidation, harassment and general staffing issues, said Battaglia.

“They haven’t created one fulltime position in the last 25 years,” he said.

“And that’s mismanagement.”

Two decades ago the base was getting 500 calls a year.

Now, it gets more than 3,500 annually.

Part-time, casual staff are working fulltime hours, said Battaglia. It’s a waste of money.

Part-time flight staff earn roughly $36,000 a year, while casual nurses make approximately $43,000.

“But they are all making over $100,000 a year with overtime,” he said.

That money could have been used to expand the cramped ambulance station, said Battaglia.

“They were supposed to build a second floor, but that hasn’t happened.”

That money could also have been used to establish an accredited training program for primary care paramedics at Yukon College.

The government has not supplied any accredited training for paramedics in the last nine years, said Battaglia.

“From when I started there (in 2002) until now, only five of the 30 staff are accredited paramedics.”

Battaglia, certified through the Justice Institute of BC, was one of the five.

Staff complained there was no access to proper training in the Yukon, so the territorial government contracted BC’s Justice Institute to run a “one-off training course.”

But the institute wouldn’t certify the attendants who completed the course because the Yukon has no ambulance act, licensing body or legislative authority governing what paramedics can and can’t do, said Battaglia.

“There’s no quality control.”

The government doesn’t even have to hire trained paramedics, said Battaglia.

“Desperate for staff, YTG hires people to work on the ambulance without the proper skill set.”

Battaglia worked with one attendant who was hired as an underfill — someone who didn’t pass the competency test.

Some staff filed complaints with Workers’ Compensation, arguing it was unsafe to work with the under-trained attendant.

“She didn’t even know how to lift a stretcher properly,” said Battaglia.

“But it’s not her fault, she was hired without the proper qualifications.”

Workers’ Compensation found the complaints were legitimate and issued an order that the underfill be properly trained and certified.

But it didn’t happen, said Battaglia.

There was also a nurse hired out of Alberta, who was driving the ambulance without the necessary Class IV licence, he said.

When Battaglia found out, he questioned Emergency Medical Services director Beatrice Felker.

“They told me he had a Class IV, just not a Yukon one,” he said. “But the nurse later admitted to having no such licence.”

By that time, he’d been driving the ambulance illegally for four months.

Battaglia remembers one traumatic call in Cowley Creek.

“Two attendants with little or no experience went out on the call,” he said.

“And things started going sideways.”

Luckily, a long-time medic who lived nearby heard about the incident and went to help.

“What you want to know when the ambulance shows up, is that they are doing the best they can to save your loved ones,” said Battaglia.

“You don’t want the last memory you have to be them scrambling around, panicking and disappearing.”

Battaglia’s list of horror stories is long.

It includes tales of under-trained emergency dispatch staff, who are supposed to coach callers on things like basic life support while they are waiting for the ambulance.

There’s an account of a night supervisor who decided he didn’t want to take a 911 call, instead calling in the standby team while his crew watched TV at the station.

That night, it took the ambulance more than 30 minutes to get to Porter Creek, said Battaglia.

“While our mandate is to reach calls within Whitehorse in under eight minutes.”

The base is also rife with cronyism and favouritism, added Battaglia.

“There’s legislation that says the government doesn’t go for cronyism, but it’s alive and well at Yukon EMS,” he said, citing several examples, including an auxiliary flight medic from Alberta who was handed an instructor position just five weeks after he was hired.

Battaglia was vocal about these injustices, despite threats and harassment suffered under his supervisor.

Then, five weeks before Christmas, after filing a harassment suit, he was suspended without pay.

With a perfect employment record, Battaglia questioned the suspension.

He was told staff were apprehensive about working with him.

“But there had been no complaints, letters or written statements,” said Battaglia.

In fact, after learning of his dismissal, station staff started a petition urging the government to give Battaglia back his job.

Staff were warned that if they signed it they would be charged with insubordination, he said.

Battaglia remained suspended without pay for four months.

Two days after Battaglia won the suit he was fired, on March 27. The termination was backdated November 28.

The situation is just getting worse, said Battaglia.

In the past month, the ambulance station lost two flight nurses and another’s on the way out.

The underfill, who is constantly harassed and has been brought to tears, is set to quit.

One attendant, who’s worked at the Whitehorse base for 20 years, is away indefinitely on stress leave.

And another ground medic plans to quit because of harassment issues.

Battaglia, who’s been in Whitehorse since 1969, has taken a job as a paramedic in Alberta.

But he’s worried about his friends and family.

“I was the patient advocate because I have friends and family in this town that depend on having good ambulance service with quality people running the show,” he said.

Felker did not return calls before press time.