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AHS EMS to use canine comfort to help protect paramedics

October 16, 2017

CALGARY – Alberta Health Services Emergency Medical Services (AHS EMS) is enlisting some four-legged help to support paramedics experiencing psychological stress.

Delray is an accredited facility dog trained to provide comfort and support for people experiencing psychological stress. 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 AHS EMS’ new Psychological Awareness and Wellness Support (PAWS) program, the three-year-old black lab and his handler, Erica Olson, will visit EMS staff at their stations following traumatic calls. The PAWS team will also make 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.

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

Dr. Verna Yiu, AHS President and CEO, says the health and safety of staff is one of the organization’s top priorities.

“I’m incredibly proud of the leadership demonstrated by Chief Sandbeck and his EMS team in the area of psychological health and safety,” says Dr. Yiu. “We will continue to support their work to ensure staff has access to the right help if and when they need it.”

The PAWS program was identified by the EMS Psychological Health and Safety Committee as an effective resource for staff using proven animal engagement techniques supported by specialized training through PADS, one of Canada’s leaders in the 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 dedicated support to first responders.” says Laura Watamanuk, PADS Executive Director. “He was specifically 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.”

“For years we have known that specially-trained canines like Delray have a unique and instinctive capacity to comfort those in distress,” says Associate Minister Brandy Payne. “Delray is going to be an important part of the team and will help our EMS members deal with the trauma they witness every day.”

Delray is provided to AHS EMS through a partnership with PADS. The EMS Foundation has donated $50,000 for the purchase of an SUV, modified to ensure the safe transport of the PAWS team.

“The EMS Foundation was created in order to give back to our paramedics in a meaningful way,” says EMS Foundation Board Chair Chris Salmon. “Our caring for staff goes beyond the uniform. It’s about the people and their families behind those uniforms, which is why we are immensely proud to support this program.”

PAWS will initially be based in the Central Zone. AHS EMS will monitor the program for 12 to 18 months to determine how it can be appropriately expanded to support EMS staff in all zones.

Follow Delray on Facebook @DelrayPAWS or on Instagram at delray.paws

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

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For media inquiries, contact:

Francis Silvaggio
AHS Communications

Laura Watamanuk
PADS Executive Director