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Report finds ‘breadth of sexual harassment’ at BC Ambulance Service

Chief ambulance officer at BC Emergency Health Services says changes are underway

The person in charge of British Columbia Ambulance Service declined to say how many people have lost their jobs in the wake of a report calling for “urgent” action given the “breadth of sexual harassment” in the service.

But Leanne Heppell, chief ambulance officer at BC Emergency Health Services, said BCAS has already taken steps to address issues raised by the report while acknowledging the possibility of future firings.

“Any incident that’s brought to our attention, we do a full investigation and discipline can occur up to and including termination,” Heppell told Black Press Media.

She also said individuals receiving care through BCAS can be confident in the quality of care they receive.

“I want to reassure the public, that we have a very proud tradition of providing caring and compassionate care to all of our patients and families across the province,” Heppell said. “I know that to be true, because on a weekly basis, I get at least three formal letters from the public talking about the care and the compassion, that they have received. Overall, our employees are extremely committed and provide excellent care.”

Heppell made these comments after the release of a report, which she had commissioned following an earlier survey that questioned whether the service was doing enough to prevent psychological abuse for employees. Heppell had also toured the province following her hiring in 2021.

The report from Cathe Gaskell reveals a workplace in which certain teams tolerated “(sexualized) comments and gender-based derogatory banter” and an unspecified number of inappropriate touching, which “included stroking, smacking, and rubbing against by males to females.”

The report also finds a reluctance among victims of sexual harassment to speak up and when they speak to have their concerns taken seriously.

“(It)’s a reasonable conclusion that sexual harassment is under-reported at BCEHS,” Gaskell wrote. “A number of staff expressed that in raising a complaint, it will not be acted upon or taken seriously.”

The report paints a less than flattering light of managers as well as the ambulance union.

“Some staff believed managers may be complicit in protecting friends and that a ‘boys club’ was still in existence that protected predators,” she wrote. “Staff expressed concerns that the union had reportedly supported alleged perpetrators, both historically and currently and this created conflict,” she added. “Some staff alleged it appeared perpetrators were protected through minimal sanctions for those found to have sexually harassed others and these minimal sanctions might reinforce a sense of impunity in colleagues.”

Patients were also not immune to the effects of a low level of awareness about Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, the report reads.

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Gaskell said some staff reported a lack of sensitivity and awareness in colleagues when working with Indigenous patients and communities in making disparaging and racist comments when attending a scene.

Other long-standing issues depressing staff morale include scheduling and payroll. “Staff wanted this urgently resolved as it impacted on trust within the organisation on many levels and contributed to a sense of not being heard by the senior management team,” Gaskell wrote.

Heppell said the ambulance service has rolled out “very intensive training” to its human resources team to strengthen its ability to address these issues, as well as a 24-7 hotline for staff to report any issues.

The service is also in the process of recruiting a director of diversity and a new chief of people, equity and diversity.

The report and its findings comes amid staff shortages that have drawn complaints from the public and elected officials across the province.

“…now it’s time for us to really focus on on our employees and make sure that we are providing them a safe environment to work in that’s inclusive and that free of racism… and that’s exactly what we are doing,” Heppell said.

Black Press Media reached out to Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. but did not receive a reply by deadline.


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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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