“OUR voices have been heard,” said the family of the late Hunter paramedic Tony Jenkins after NSW Ambulance chief Dominic Morgan issued an unprecedented apology to paramedics in which he acknowledged “completely failing” some employees.
The mea culpa occurred only weeks after Mr Jenkins’ wife Sharon told Mr Morgan and NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard that her family would not stop campaigning until the service’s bullying and neglectful culture changed, after Mr Jenkins took his own life in April.
“I feel like we’re finally getting somewhere, as long as they follow through. I just hope they take the next step and hold people accountable,” Mrs Jenkins said.
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 from a Bunnings store at Belmont about 30 minutes after the drop off and died not far from his home, aged 54. He was the third Hunter paramedic to suicide in a decade.
He died six months after the newly-appointed Mr 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”.
Mrs Jenkins, her daughters Kim and Cidney and Mr Jenkins’ nephew Shayne Connell have asked for an inquest and public hearing into Mr Jenkins’ death. Detectives are expected to hand a brief of evidence to the NSW Coroner’s Office by early September.
In his apology to all NSW paramedics, distributed on Tuesday, Mr Morgan introduced a suite of measures to overhaul support services and dismantle a culture that has stopped paramedics from seeking help and reporting misconduct.
“NSW Ambulance has not always looked after all its staff as well as it should have," Mr Morgan said.
“Some have been terribly let down. Some we have completely failed. We all know someone who has fallen through the cracks.”
NSW Ambulance will employ a team of psychologists and other specialists to provide a round-the-clock support unit for service employees, the first such unit in its history.
The unit, headed by a chief psychologist and five senior psychologists, will be immediately deployed to any location across NSW for individual staff or station teams in crisis. Paramedics can also self-refer to the psychologists who will be bound by their external code of patient confidentiality
In his filmed apology to paramedics Mr Morgan said the psychologists “are only there for one reason, and that is to look after you”.
“They’re in your corner.”
Mrs Jenkins said her husband’s death had shocked and devastated his family, but had had a profound impact on paramedics in the Hunter and across NSW.
“Everything they did that day was wrong. We stood up for Tony because the service did not look after him when he needed it most,” Mrs Jenkins said.
“We said we would not rest until there was change. We were doing it for Tony but we were also doing it for all other paramedics who’ve had to suffer from a culture that doesn’t support them.”
She thanked Mr Hazzard for listening and responding.
“I found him very respectful and remorseful. I feel like he really is going to make change, because after hearing from us about what happened to Tony he understands how wrong it was. Noone should be treated that way.”
The family of the late Paul Clough, a NSW Ambulance paramedic who took his own life in 2010, said the apology and commitment to change the culture and provide more services was welcomed, but promises had been made before.
Mr Clough’s mother Lesley said she would never forget the promises made by NSW Ambulance after her son’s suicide in 2010, using morphine taken from the ambulance station where he worked.
“They promised all sorts of things; that they’d look after their own in future because of what happened with Paul, but I don’t think they do,” said Mrs Clough early this month after she spoke to the Newcastle Herald to support the Jenkins family.
Mr Morgan announced a new bullying and harassment hotline which will allow paramedics to report misconduct and seek support confidentially, bypassing superiors who may be involved in their grievances to alleviate the fear of retribution.
Mr Jenkins’ daughter Cidney said her family’s “voices have been heard”.
“(Mr Morgan) is saying everything that needs to be said, and now we’ll be watching to make sure it happens,” Cidney Jenkins said.
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