PARAMEDIC Tony Jenkins took his own life about two hours after he was dropped off, alone, by a senior NSW Ambulance officer after a meeting about his alleged use of the opioid Fentanyl taken from Hunter ambulance stations.
He bought items to commit suicide from a Bunnings store at Belmont about 30 minutes after the drop off. An hour and 15 minutes later his phone shows a text message was sent to him from another senior ambulance officer.
The 82-word message sent at 7.46pm on Monday, April 9 – and not received by Mr Jenkins because his phone was turned off – ends with the lines: “Please feel free to call me at any time if you need to chat or vent. Thinking of you and please don’t feel you’re alone.”
Mr Jenkins’ widow Sharon, daughters Kim and Cidney and nephew Shayne Connell believe he died a short time later, not far from his home, aged 54.
He is the third Hunter ambulance officer in the past decade to take his own life. He died six months after NSW Ambulance chief executive Dominic Morgan told a parliamentary inquiry the service had serious cultural problems including “rates of bullying that would not be considered acceptable to us or the broader community”.
Please feel free to call me at any time if you need to chat or vent. Thinking of you and please don’t feel you’re alone.Text message sent to Tony Jenkins by senior NSW Ambulance officer
Mr Jenkins’ family does not know what happened at the meeting, does not trust NSW Ambulance and does not accept its treatment of a paramedic with 28 years’ service, whose history was of standing up for others and fighting for a safer workplace.
“He cared for the community for so long. When he needed care he got nothing,” said Mrs Jenkins. She wept for her husband of 31 years who died in his NSW Ambulance uniform only hours after waving her goodbye to start a routine shift, until the call to attend a meeting.
“I just can’t even think about what it must have been like for him, to tell you the truth, being treated like that. He was called into a meeting without warning, without anyone with him, accused of taking Fentanyl, and then dropped off alone. He asked for help. They just didn’t give him a chance.”
A toxicology report found Mr Jenkins had no Fentanyl in his system when he died. His family has not been shown any evidence to support an allegation he was a long-term user of the powerful painkiller. There are no minutes from the meeting on April 9 and it was not recorded.
His family does not dispute that he self-medicated, or even that he used Fentanyl obtained from work, but say it raises even more serious questions about what happened at the final meeting and the decision to drop him off alone, four hours before his shift ended, without union support or notifying his family.
Mrs Jenkins was concerned about her husband by 12.30am, April 10, after he failed to return home from a shift that ended at 10pm. Her phone shows she made 17 phone calls to NSW Ambulance numbers and left messages over the following hours until begging a John Hunter Hospital employee to ask paramedics if they knew where her husband was.
Paramedics said there had been an incident and that a manager would call her. He didn’t. She made a panicked call to daughter Cidney at nearly 4am.
There were frantic searches until the family was asked to return home where NSW Ambulance officers and police advised Tony Jenkins had taken his life.
“The first thing I asked was ‘What did you say to him at that meeting?’. The second was ‘Why did you let him go?’” Mrs Jenkins said.
A NSW Coroner’s Court spokesperson said Mr Jenkins’ death had been reported to the coroner.
“A decision on whether to hold an inquest will be made once the coroner has received and reviewed the full police brief of evidence,” the spokesperson said.
WorkCover and NSW Ambulance are also investigating Mr Jenkins’ death.
His wife said her husband “wasn’t a quiet brooder” and didn’t bottle things up.
Documents found in his locker after his death confirm he had a long history of writing reports to ambulance management about employee safety, and more recent support of a female officer over bullying.
If our fact-finding shows anything to the contrary then I’ll be the first person to take that to Sharon and the rest of the family and admit that we did fail in our duty of care.NSW Ambulance chief executive Dominic Morgan
In recent years he suffered from workplace anxiety and stress over increasing violence against paramedics on the job, particularly involving drugs. Emails showed complaints about paramedics being sent to potentially violent jobs without adequate information.
Kim Jenkins said the locker revealed “a mountain of correspondence about Dad trying to get things changed”. They also revealed a man who despaired of that change occurring.
In one document he writes about “waging a losing battle” after a potentially violent incident and when “nothing happened in the service I just kept my own list of dangerous jobs we were being sent to”.
“I felt it was causing me more anxiety trying to sort of take on this cause so I just said ‘F… it’ and decided to get on with my job,” Mr Jenkins wrote more than a decade ago.
Mr and Mrs Jenkins and daughter Cidney were to fly to Bali on May 7 for a holiday. There was a longer trip for the husband and wife in September, to Italy. They had already paid the $12,000 cost.
“There was no pre-planning in what he did when he died. Tony was a very organised person. If he was planning anything he would have set things up but there was nothing. Financially he prepared nothing,” Mrs Jenkins said.
His nephew Shayne Connell, a Cancer Council manager, said there were no explanations for Mr Jenkins’ suicide, other than events on April 9.
“For the family the only trigger was that day at work,” he said.
Documents obtained by the ABC found there have been almost 100 investigations into paramedics misappropriating addictive drugs in Australia over the past eight years, with 36 in NSW.
NSW Ambulance chief executive Dominic Morgan defended the service’s handling of events around Mr Jenkins’ death but “if our fact-finding shows anything to the contrary then I’ll be the first person to take that to Sharon and the rest of the family and admit that we did fail in our duty of care”, he said in an ABC interview.
“He was this well-respected, well-regarded professional and it concerns me greatly that a person with that reputation could find themselves so desperate that their only option was to turn to drugs and addiction,” he said.