Conestoga news

July 6, 2020 6:45 AM

Supporting paramedics during COVID-19

Conestoga’s Canadian Institute for Safety, Wellness & Performance (CISWP) has been awarded $75,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) as part of the College and Community Innovation Program - Applied Research Rapid Response to COVID-19.

Projects funded through the program address topics of immediate relevance to the pandemic by leveraging the expertise and applied research infrastructure at colleges and polytechnics. CISWP will use the funding to develop a guideline for addressing the mental health impacts of COVID-19 among Canadian paramedics.

“Paramedics are at an elevated risk for developing mental health disorders due to long hours, shift work, limited control over work and exposure to traumatic events,” explained Dr. Amin Yazdani, CISWP director. “Compared to the general population, they are five times more likely to screen positive for at least one mental health disorder. The additional stress caused by COVID-19 will increase the prevalence and severity of mental health injuries among paramedics as they cope with staffing challenges, elevated levels of fear and anxiety, isolation from the community and the stigma of being perceived as carriers of the virus.”

According to Yazdani, recent studies found there are few evidence-informed tools, guidelines and resources to support the mental health and wellness of paramedics during a health crisis. Through the NSERC funding, Yazdani and team will develop a paramedic-focused rapid guideline to prevent and manage COVID-19 related mental health injuries that will be widely disseminated to paramedic service organizations and other stakeholder groups across the country. The guideline, however, will also be accessible for international paramedic community.

The guideline will be developed using existing data drawn from two ongoing research and development projects spearheaded by CISWP. These projects aim to develop a Canadian work disability management system standard to prevent and manage mental health injuries within paramedic service organizations and a Canadian first responders fatigue risk management (physical fatigue, cognitive fatigue, burnout, compassion fatigue) standard. Interviews with paramedics, employers, union leaders, policy makers and health and safety experts will also be conducted and a review of existing scientific evidence and evidence informed guidelines will be undertaken as well. The draft guideline will go under rapid and comprehensive evaluation before publication.

“CISWP has been working with the paramedic community on three research projects funded by Defense Research and Development Canada to improve the performance, health, safety and wellbeing of Canadian paramedics,” said Yazdani. “These projects demonstrate CISWP’s partnerships and expertise in the development of innovative solutions for the paramedic community. The recent NSERC funded project demonstrates the importance of applied research and partnerships with stakeholders to rapidly mobilize solutions and expertise to address industry challenges in a time of crisis. We are grateful to NSERC for its support of the rapid guideline as it will provide another critical resource for the paramedic community.”

The college has also received funding through the same NSERC program to support a project aimed at promoting hand hygiene in long-term care homes to reduce COVID-19 transmission rates.

The Canadian Institute for Safety, Wellness & Performance, located within Conestoga’s School of Business, works to improve the safety, wellness and performance of the Canadian labour force by generating knowledge, transferring research to practice, and strengthening workforce development — all in collaboration with stakeholders.

For more information, contact Dr. Amin Yazdani.