We support our people

Healthcare is a stressful profession. And it’s our belief at AHS that if we don’t look after our people, they will have difficulty looking after others. That support comes in all shapes and sizes: meet Delray, the comfort dog

Every time someone calls 911 for an ambulance in Alberta, Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) Emergency Medical Services (EMS) responds.

It’s a responsibility the people who wear the uniform take very seriously but it’s a responsibility that can come at a cost.

“Our EMS professionals deal with challenging and traumatic calls every day across Alberta,” says Darren Sandbeck, Chief Paramedic with AHS. “The psychological impact is very real and we have made it our priority to support our staff every step of the way.”

The newest support steps through EMS station doors with four legs and a tail; his name is Delray.

“Delray is an accredited facility dog trained to provide comfort and support for paramedics experiencing psychological stress,” says Erica Olson, Delray’s handler and the co-ordinator for AHS EMS’ new Psychological Awareness and Wellness Support (PAWS) program. “Animal contact has been shown to trigger the production of oxytocin in the body, which lowers stress by reducing blood pressure and cortisol levels.”

As part of PAWS program, the three-year-old black lab and Olson visit EMS staff at their stations following traumatic calls. The PAWS team also makes regular station visits to maintain morale, promote mental wellness, support members re-integrating back to work after taking time off for psychological injuries, and raise awareness about mental health resources available to employees.

Delray is provided to AHS EMS through a partnership with the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADS), one of Canada’s leaders in breeding, raising, training and supporting certified assistance dogs.

“PADS is proud to be partnering with Alberta Health Services on the PAWS program. Delray is the first placement of this kind in Canada, providing support to first responders,” says Laura Watamanuk, PADS Executive Director. “He was chosen for the role for his ability to bring both joyful enthusiasm and gentle sensitivity as needs demand. He is a dog that is intuitively drawn into situations where individuals are experiencing strong emotions.”

Our words

It was a very healing afternoon … we thought we were OK, but when everyone was sharing, we were all in tears and that’s when we realized we’re all not OK; we’re all still hiding emotions.

Brenda Caines, AHS Fort McMurray public health administrative support, who took part in a half-day Art Healing session in recognition of the stress people experience after disasters, such as the May 2016 wildfire. She is pictured at left with fellow staffers Carolyn Evancio and Gail Braun

We start every shift with a ‘tool box’ meeting. The lead hand distributes and reviews work orders, opens discussion with the team to flag any tasks that may pose a safety risk and brainstorms solutions.

David Addison, Foothills Medical Centre maintenance manager and chair of the Safety Committee with the 82-member Facilities Maintenance and Engineering team, that worked 1,000 days without a lost-time incident

When we received Our People Survey results, our team identified the question of ‘best friend at work’ as an opportunity. We are a virtual organization. We can build trust when people see our faces.

Judy-Ann Wybenga, director of Nutrition and Food Services, North Zone, whose team congratulates one another when they use web cameras and post pictures to their Lync/Skype profiles

The Not Myself Today program has made me more aware of how others on my team are feeling from day to day and it has given me the tools to respectfully inquire and support them.

Jennifer Yelland, a workplace health and safety team champion with AHS, on the program that gives staff access to tools and resources to raise awareness and understanding of mental health

As part of the PAWS program, Delray and his handler, Erica Olson, make regular station visits to support EMS members re-integrating back to work after taking time off for psychological injuries, and raise awareness about mental health resources available to employees.

Here are a few of the many resources guiding how ahs supports our people

AHS CARES values

These five values: compassion, accountability, respect, excellence and safety were chosen by AHS staff. CARES guide us in our interactions with patients, their families and one another.

Front-line Leader Advisory Council

This group of front-line leaders from across AHS zones and programs provides feedback on corporate initiatives, as well as input on issues concerning front-line leaders.

Our People Strategy

This strategy is about creating a culture at AHS in which all employees feel safe, healthy, valued and included and able to reach their full potential.

Our People Survey (biennial) and Pulse Survey (interim check-in)

These two surveys help AHS leaders gauge, assess and continually improve workforce engagement.

Joint Workplace Health and Safety Committees

Committees of managers and workers from local AHS sites and programs promote health and safety.

Confidential reporting line

This is an external 24/7 confidential reporting and disclosure service to receive reports of improper activity.

'Your Voice Matters’ monthly blog

Staff post their comments, ideas, suggestions and solutions for AHS.


The AHS intranet, Insite, is a one-stop shop for what’s happening at AHS. It allows staff to access the information and resources they need.