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Mental health support for front-line workers during unprecedented times
PENETANGUISHENE, ONT. -- Since the pandemic was declared, rushing to assist victims in distress hasn't been the same for Simcoe County paramedics.
Mike Hargreaves, a paramedic with the county, says the day to day is daunting and draining for those involved.
"It's medically, emotionally, and physically draining on us as every call that we go to is basically a COVID-19 landmine," admits Hargreaves, who adds anyone at the scene could be a carrier of the virus.
"Not knowing if it's the patient, the caregiver, the family member or somebody that has come and gone out of the residence, we just don't know."
Hargreaves says in the past, it was easy to separate his work life from home life after a shift, but in today's new normal, that's not an option.
"After a 12-hour shift, you're revamping the whole day. Now you're thinking, am I exposing my loved ones," he says. "So, after a period of time, it does take an emotional drain on us."
It's this way of thinking that's prompted the Ontario Government to step up.
Earlier this month, Premier Doug Ford introduced new measures for those on the frontlines.
"To support those struggling with mental health during these difficult times, our government has invested 12-million-dollars into virtual and online mental health supports," said Ford, who called the front-line workers superheroes.
"I can't thank them enough for what they do day in and day out. They take care of us, and we're going to make sure we take care of them too."
Along with the funding, the province also chose Waypoint Centre for Mental Health in Penetanguishene as one of the five hospitals in Ontario to roll out the new COVID Frontline Wellness program.
The program is a joint initiative with Ontario's new Mental Health and Addictions Centre for Excellence at Ontario Health. What's unique about the COVID Frontline Wellness is while most programs at the centre need the referral of a doctor, this program accepts self-referrals.
"Once they get their appointment, we will do an intake assessment and find out what's going on for the person. Where their struggles are and what kind of level of service we feel like they could benefit from," explains Allison Jones, a social worker at Waypoint.
Since the rollout at the beginning of April, health officials say they've already received several referrals province-wide from people looking for help.
"Sometimes just speaking with someone and normalizing that this is actually a really difficult time and that they're having a normal reaction to very abnormal circumstance can be very validating," says Jones.