Skip to main content

Damning report into BCEHS workplace culture released after CTV News FOI request

Share

BC Emergency Health Services has made public a damning report into its workplace culture two months after CTV News made a freedom of information request for the document.

It outlines a “breadth of sexual harassment” and says low diversity, equity and inclusion awareness and sensitivity “around diversity of colleagues, and patients, is likely to be creating tensions in the workplace.”

CTV News became aware of the report from front-line paramedics who expressed frustration that senior managers and administrators were downplaying the findings and problems within the organization.

CTV News filed a freedom of information request and paid the now-required fee on May 12.

CTV News filed a freedom of information request and paid the now-required fee on May 12.

The agency’s FOI office did not provide the report to CTV News nor ask for an extension after 30 days, avoiding any contact until a representative emailed Friday morning to say it would be made public 20 minutes later. A news release followed that didn’t include any of the negative findings and instead touted “actions underway throughout BCEHS to provide an inclusive and respectful environment.”

'ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE SHORTFALLS'

The report was authored by Cathe Gaskell, an experienced and independent workplace investigator, who presented it in July of 2022.

“This review concluded that further work is needed on addressing the identified organizational culture shortfalls, through a systematic approach to making the culture more accountable, fair, and inclusive for both staff and patients,” Gaskell wrote. “The breadth of sexual harassment activity reported, and the sense of frustration expressed by a number of female paramedics, as well as acknowledgement by male colleagues of its existence, requires urgent attention and a sustained focus on to reduce, by the organization.”

Gaskell wrote that she confidentially spoke with a number of employees, including paramedics who’ve made sexual harassment allegations and others who’ve been involved in workplace bullying investigations, as well as analyzing data from two workplace surveys. 

A clash between older, white male staff and newer paramedics, insufficient management training, and conflict between the union and BCEHS were also cited as issues, with poor overall morale a major concern.

The section on sexual harassment experienced by female paramedics is heavily redacted, but women who complained said their concerns were minimized or dismissed, and “some staff believed managers may be complicit in protecting friends and that a ‘boys club’ was still in existence that protected predators.”

However, Gaskell also notes workplace camaraderie within stations and teams is strong, as is pride about the work they’re doing to help their communities.

'WE ARE TRANSFORMING THE ORGANIZATION'

BCEHS has been on a hiring blitz for more than a year with a new collective agreement and funding boost aimed at shoring up the service, which has been dealing with a high absentee rate and long waits for service amid record-high call volume.

In its news release on the report, BCEHS says the review, "and the work undertaken since, strengthens the organization’s culture of diversity, equity and inclusivity to better support employees.” The service also says it's improving hiring practices and hiring a DEI chief while “strengthening employee recognition and appreciation efforts.” 

Speaking to CTV News via Zoom on Friday, BCEHS chief ambulance officer Leanne Heppell said the organization's leadership team has been listening to front-line staff for the last two years.

She said she's proud of the work that team has done to address the issues highlighted in the report and to improve the workplace culture overall.

Asked why BCEHS waited roughly a year to release the report publicly – and why it was only released publicly after the organization received and ignored an FOI request from CTV News – Heppell said she couldn't speak to the FOI process, but the document and its findings were shared widely within the organization.

"We definitely shared the results of this report with our leadership team," she said. "We also summarized the results and sent it out in several memos to the entire organization. And we've been utilizing these recommendations along with other inputs. This was just one piece of the overall components of our new plan."

Heppell touted additional training for the leadership and human resources teams; a confidential line that staff members can use to report harassment, bullying and discrimination; and the hiring a chief of people, equity and diversity as some of the ways in which the organization is changing.

She also noted that the staffing model for BCEHS has changed from 60 per cent of ambulance staff being on-call workers to 70 per cent of staff being permanent, full-time employees.

"We are transforming the organization," Heppell said.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Spencer Harwood

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Who is Usha Vance, the wife of Trump's running mate?

JD Vance has had several introductions to the American people: as the author of a memoir on what ails the White working class, as a newly elected Republican senator in his home state of Ohio and, on Monday, as his party’s nominee for vice president. His wife, Usha, has been by his side through it all.

Stay Connected