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Alberta paramedic suspended without pay following social media posts

An Airdrie paramedic who spoke at a town hall meeting last summer to bring to light what is being deemed an “ongoing crisis” about rural ambulance availability was suspended without pay earlier this month due to his social media posts, according to his wife.

AIRDRIE – A paramedic who spoke at a town hall meeting last summer to bring to light what is being deemed an “ongoing crisis” about rural ambulance availability was suspended without pay earlier this month due to his social media posts, according to his wife.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) paramedic Ryan Middleton stated at a town hall meeting on Aug. 13 that Airdrie ambulances were disproportionately attending to emergencies in Calgary, while local emergencies were attended to by ambulances from as far away as Three Hills and Olds. 

He cited figures obtained through a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) request. Middleton, who has been an AHS paramedic for 10 years, has since been advocating online for ambulance services locally through his personal Facebook page and the Airdrie EMS Citizen Action Group Facebook group. 

He received a letter at the beginning of December advising he was under investigation because of Facebook posts he had made, without clarification as to which posts were under scrutiny. Due to the nature of the investigation and a signed confidentiality agreement, Middleton’s wife Angie has agreed to speak on his behalf.  

According to Angie, Middleton attended the resulting meeting in mid-December and was advised the investigation was being made into a post he made on the Vulcan County EMS Community Action Group Facebook page, as well as a post responding to a video that Airdrie-East MLA Angela Pitt had posted. 

“Someone on one of the Vulcan pages had reached out to Ryan and asked if he had any stats for Vulcan, so he posted on their page,” she said. “The other post that was in question was [in response to] Angela Pitt’s video of her in the House of Commons asking Jason Copping (Alberta Health Minister) questions.  

“Ryan had commented on that video and was breaking down all of his answers to [Pitt’s] questions.” 

Angie said AHS representatives claimed Middleton’s posts were devised as if he were attempting to speak on behalf of the health organization, posing to him the question, “Can you see how the public would think that you are speaking on AHS’ behalf?” 

She added her husband responded by stating that he did not see how that was possible, as he was posting on his personal page and added only those accepted as a friend could see he was an AHS employee.  

In addition, she said all information posted online has been obtained through a FOIP request or taken directly from AHS’ website. Regarding the inquiry, Angie said the supervisor asked Middleton where he had verified his information, to which he responded, “Who do you want me to verify it from?” 

“The supervisor was asking a very stupid question, but I think they were grasping at straws because he knows that Ryan follows policy and procedures,” Angie said, adding the meeting was more than a little one-sided.  

“It’s the person that initiated the investigation that gets to ask all the questions, you don’t really get to defend yourself,” she said. “You answer the questions that they ask, and that’s about it.” 

According to Angie, there are seven additional staff on Middleton’s team who are also under investigation for Facebook posts, all of which have been spearheaded by the same supervisor who has an alleged history of harassment and bullying.  

Following the initial meeting, Ryan awaited an outcome meeting that was delayed during the holiday, which resulted in his being suspended from work for two shifts without pay.

Angie said the slap on the wrist is just a single step in a series of disciplinary actions taken by AHS supervisors.  

“You get a letter on your file first and then for some people, if the disciplines are not related, you can go with three or four letters on your file,” she said. “It really depends on who is investigating and who is doling out the discipline. 

“You get a letter on your file, you get suspended for one day, then you get suspended for two, then three, then four and five, and then they start thinking about dismissal.” 

According to Angie, her husband has been back to work since the suspension but is now seeking retribution with the aid of his union representative. He has filed a grievance in the hopes of fighting the suspension.  

She said this will result in several additional meetings held with AHS staff, and then it will go to arbitration if a resolution cannot be reached.  

Despite the long road ahead and the confidentiality agreement, Angie said Ryan can still talk stats and plans to continue to post on social media following a short break for the good of his own mental state.  

“He will not ever be allowed to talk about the suspension or any discipline or anything like that, but he can still FOIP request – he can post stuff like that,” she said, adding he plans to tread carefully when posting online in the future. 

“If he does post, even if it’s something super minor, [he will] just literally write in asterisks, that he’s not speaking on behalf of AHS, and this is his own opinion,” she said. "It's just stupid that it has to be that way, but until this stuff is sorted with his supervisor, I think this is the way it’s going to be.” 

Prior to the social media investigation, Angie said Ryan had a stellar employment record and had never received a single patient complaint.  

“He’s had recommendations from supervisors, he’s had commendations from other colleagues,” she said.  

She added Middleton’s advocacy efforts stem from his desire to make a better work environment for him and his coworkers, while also bringing a greater breadth of ambulance services to Airdrie and the surrounding area.  

“Ryan has never shied away from work, never denied work. That’s not the point. It makes no difference to him how many calls he has in a day,” she said. “It’s [about] having the appropriate resources where they’re supposed to be. 

“It’s not safe to not have an ambulance in Airdrie and when we think about Airdrie, we also think about the other surrounding communities, and it’s like, what if that was your family member and there was no ambulance?” 

When reached, AHS representatives said they could not comment specifically on personnel matters.

Carmen Cundy

About the Author: Carmen Cundy

Carmen Cundy joined the Airdrie Today team in March 2021.
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