Cleveland EMS crews win PTSD coverage, $3.7M in back pay after long battle with city

Cleveland EMS crews win PTSD coverage, $3.7M in back pay after long battle with city

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - A fight for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder coverage years in the making has ended with a win for Cleveland paramedics, EMTs and dispatchers.

A union contract for Cleveland EMS just passed, under an agreement out of court that still needs to be ratified by city council.

The agreement includes about $3.7 million in back pay for employees and mental health language, addressing PTSD.

CARE has been negotiating their contract since March of 2016.

CARE Union president Paul Melhuish credits continued coverage of the issue from 19 Investigates with helping them achieve the new mental health and PTSD policy.

In one of our stories, we profiled paramedics struggling with PTSD and mental health.

Melhuish said Cleveland EMS may be among the first in the nation to have an outlined policy regarding mental health coverage specific to PTSD in their contract with the city.

It is called “mental health trauma” in the contract.

New mental health coverage

We spoke to several CARE board members this morning, who tell us mental health language addressing PTSD in the contract gives them a “concrete footing for mental health.”

The contract language includes a definition for mental health trauma, outlines when that protocol can be triggered and what calls qualify for crews.

For example, the call may have dealt with someone a paramedic knew who was killed, including a family member or a coworker, or it may have involved a child.

Other qualifying calls include incidents involving multiple deaths or casualties or involving criminal assault on an employee or his or her partner while on duty.

If the call doesn’t meet those stipulations, a supervisor can still put the paramedic into the Employment Assistance Process, or EAP program.

The new policy will allow more time for crews to process traumatic calls, with up to three shifts of paid leave.

During that time, crews would have to see a psychologist.

Melhuish believes this policy will have a ripple effect on EMS crews, improving life outside of work due to issues with PTSD and mental health, including family problems.

The fight for PTSD coverage

The city of Cleveland had challenged PTSD and mental health language in the pending CARE Local 1975 union contract, even though an arbitrator ruled in their favor December 2019.

Judge Michael Russo ruled that mental health can be considered an injury.

But the city appealed the judge’s decision January of this year, arguing in court documents that employees may abuse PTSD leave.

Since then, The Cleveland Association of Rescue Employees (Care Local 1975) has been fighting that appeal.

In the past, the city has said it will not comment on pending litigation.

Increased wages and next steps

The vote from CARE members was 227 to 7 in favor of the new contract.

The contract also includes a competitive wage for members, according to CARE, that should change their attrition rates and help with recruitment.

Cleveland EMS workers will still make less money than police officers and firefighters, but the union says their wage will be more competitive.

The agreements will be signed next and head to city council for ratification, according to CARE.

Then the contracts will be updated and signed.

19 Investigates has reached out to the city of Cleveland for a statement on this story and we will update you when we hear back.

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