New wellness facility in Kitchener aims to help front-line workers

Thirteen active or retired OPP officers have taken their lives since 2012.

This startling number is currently under review by the force, and a new facility opened its doors in Kitchener this week that hopes to help first responders and other front-line workers with their physical and mental health.

Frontline Forward is the brainchild of Bryan Stevens, a former Ornge air ambulance paramedic who spent 30 years in the field.

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“We are creating a community of healing for what I call a community that’s in crisis,” Stevens told Global News.

The facility is geared toward front-line workers, including paramedics, police officers, firefighters, military personnel, registered nurses, doctors, corrections officers and social workers.

Frontline Forward is hoping that these people, who are routinely exposed to traumatic events at their job, will find a sense of community as well as some help with their physical and mental health at the new facility.

“What our place does is to let them let that guard down a little bit, be with like-minded people and know there is a lot of love and support for them,” Stevens said.

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The building on Shirley Avenue in Kitchener offers a fully functional gym and a 1,100-square-foot yoga and meditation studio that will also serve as a media centre and house workshops.

“We’ve got three very dynamic workshops that are going to take place here,” Stevens said.

The facility, which is the first of its kind in Canada, also offers massage therapy, chiropractic care and physiotherapy, and the centre has a psychotherapist on staff.

“Down the hallway, we are very fortunate to host the brain health coach program,” Stevens said. “Julie Bolduc is our instructor with that, and she is one of four certified here in Canada.

“It’s a proven (post-traumatic stress disorder)/(operational stress injury) treatment modality.”

Stevens knows first-hand the effect PTSD can have on front-line workers.

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He was a paramedic for over 30 years, spending the first portion of his career in Mississauga before he joined Ornge.

“I supported myself from a physical fitness aspect,” he explained. “I didn’t really come to appreciate the mental health aspect of it all.

“I certainly came from an era of first responder work that was ‘suck it up and move on — there is another call to go to.’”

That lack of understanding caught up with him a few years ago.

“In 2015, I had a big personal breakdown, a mental health breakdown, and because of the love and support of my wife, she found a therapist for me to go to,” he said.

A couple of years later, Stevens was forced to step away from his occupation, but he still wanted to be involved with his former friends and co-workers.

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“I retired still wanting very much to stay in touch with that community, to that brotherhood and that sisterhood, and really wanted to provide them with more support,” he said.

Stevens set about creating Frontline Forward, which has been in development for the past 18 months.

He bought the building on Shirley Avenue before stripping it down to bare walls and installing the facilities.

Stevens chose to place the facility in Kitchener because he is in touch with the community.

“I know a lot of the paramedics, police officers, firefighters, nurses and doctors in this area and just decided let’s start right here, and hopefully, this will catch on,” he explained.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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