New law on PTSD comes as good news

February 24, 2016   ·   0 Comments

By Mark Pavilons
A new provincial law to expedite identification, intervention and treatment is a big step in the right direction.
Ontario intends to introduce legislation that would create a presumption that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosed in first responders is work-related, leading to faster access to resources and treatment.
If passed, the Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder), 2016 would allow faster access to WSIB benefits and timely treatment, ultimately supporting positive recovery outcomes.
Once diagnosed with PTSD, the law will expedite the claims process to be eligible for WSIB benefits.
It removes the need to prove a causal link between PTSD and a workplace event.
It also requires employers to implement PTSD prevention plans within the workplace
The proposed presumption would apply to police officers, firefighters, paramedics, workers in correctional institutions and secure youth justice facilities, dispatchers of police, firefighter and ambulance services, and First Nations emergency response teams.
This is the next step in the government’s strategy to prevent or mitigate the risk of PTSD and provide first responders with faster access to treatment and the information they need to stay healthy.
King Township’s Vince Savoir, founder of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust that spreads awareness of PTSD among first responders, said it’s a great first step, and he’s “cautiously optimistic.”
He said he’s hoping the bill will go to second and third readings and be passed before the summer break.
The new legislation will not only help first responders, but corrections officers and communications staff.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said.
The Tema Conter Memorial Trust was created by Savoia, who in 1988 was the first paramedic to arrive on the scene of the murder. On Jan. 27, 1988 at the age of 25, Tema Conter was murdered by a convicted serial killer.
That one event would change his life forever.
Thirteen years later he set up this Memorial Trust in her name as a scholarship fund to help other paramedics and create awareness for critical incident stress.
With Canadian actor Enrico Colantoni as national spokesperson, the organization is getting its name out, and garnering a renewed interest. Colantoni is best known for his role as Sergeant Greg Parker on the Toronto-based television series Flashpoint.
Evidence shows that first responders are at least twice as likely compared to the general population to suffer PTSD, due to the risk of routine exposure to traumatic stressors.
The proposed legislation would apply to more than 73,000 first responders in Ontario.
On March 5, 2015, Ontario hosted the Summit on Work Related Traumatic Mental Stress. The province’s strategy builds on the dialogue and feedback from the Summit.
“Given all that we ask of our first responders, it is only fair that we support them when they need us most. This legislation will give first responders and those who work in corrections the peace of mind they deserve, and our prevention, resiliency and research initiatives will round out a comprehensive PTSD approach we can all be proud of and that will protect the brave men and women who we entrust with keeping us safe and secure,” said Labour Minister Kevin Flynn.
“Our government’s comprehensive approach to PTSD is all about preventing, diagnosing, and supporting the recovery of those who keep our communities safe every day. We have seen the devastating impact PTSD can have on those who keep us safe – such as our police officers, firefighters, dispatchers, and correctional officers and other frontline staff in our correctional institutions. The Supporting Ontario’s First Responders’ Act is part of a comprehensive approach to ensure our first responders have the proper supports and resources in place to ensure their physical and mental well-being,” said Yasir Naqvi, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
The OPP Association applauds the government on this move.
“Uniform officers and civilian police personnel are our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers and protectors of our communities. Above all else, they are human beings. They often suffer from injuries not easily seen and need help,” said Rob Jamieson, president of the OPP Association. “We are pleased that the government is moving forward with legislation to address one of the most important issues facing law enforcement personnel today.”
While expressing his support for the new legislation, Jamieson acknowledged that much work remains in addressing PTSD in first responders.
“The stigma surrounding mental illness continues to be a significant barrier for our members in seeking treatment,” Jamieson said. “As members of the law enforcement community, we make a commitment to protect the public, no matter the cost. To reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, we must re-commit ourselves to supporting our fellow members, with the same passion and vigilance used in serving the communities we police.”
The move comes after years of effort by CUPE paramedics, other first responders and several attempts by the Ontario NDP to change legislation so that PTSD is recognized as being a result of an emergency worker’s employment.
The “presumptive” amendment to existing legislation includes paramedics and paramedic services communication officers as well as firefighters, First Nations emergency, corrections workers and police officers, said the Minister of Labour (MOL). The proposed change would capture responders with a PTSD diagnosis as much as 24 months prior to the Bill passing into law.
“We’re optimistic that what’s being proposed by the labour minister will indeed simplify access to benefits,” said CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn. “Paramedics and other first responders often witness horrific trauma and we must all do what we can to remove the barriers for them to access help and support when they need it.”
CUPE represents over 5,500 paramedic workers across Ontario and has been campaigning for years for a Bill that recognizes PTSD can be caused by the work of first responders.
“This change to WSIB is positive but long-overdue, and I want to thank everyone – particularly NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, who has championed the cause and introduced a Bill such as this several times,” said Jeff VanPelt, a paramedic and chair of the CUPE Ambulance Committee of Ontario (CACO).


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