Ontario legislation aims to cut barriers to PTSD treatment for first-responders
Minister hints those afflicted won’t have to prove their illness was caused by the job, something that has proved difficult to do and is blamed for delaying treatment.
By: Rob Ferguson Queen’s Park Bureau, Published on Mon Feb 01 2016
First-responders such as firefighters, police and paramedics could soon get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder from the Workplace Safety Insurance Board without having to prove it was caused on the job.
Labour Minister Kevin Flynn strongly suggested Monday that legislation breaking down barriers to treatment in a field plagued by suicides will be introduced after MPPs return from their winter break in mid-February.
“Certainly, it leans that way, and that’s the type of thing we’ve been looking at,” he told reporters after a speech to the Ontario Professional Firefighters Association.
The move was hailed by Carmen Santoro, president of the OPFFA, saying more first-responders need help as soon as possible to prevent complications and higher costs later if medical care is delayed.
“There’s less than a handful of employers that are taking the lead on PTSD. The others, in my opinion, are waiting for the provincial government to take the lead.”
Only when employers take PTSD seriously will first-responders deal with any issues they’re facing, Santoro added.
“If they have a feeling it’s not going to be addressed, then why bother bringing it to the forefront? That’s troubling for our members.”
Flynn, for example, praised Durham Region police for agreeing in contract talks to provide “unlimited” psychological counselling to officers given that first-responders are twice as likely to develop PTSD as other workers.
The legislation comes seven years after New Democrat MPP Cheri DiNovo first proposed a private member’s bill that would add PTSD to the list of conditions — such as cancers for firefighters — recognized as a workplace illness.
That means first-responders would no longer have to prove their PTSD was triggered by tragic situations they see on the job, something that can be difficult to do. Alberta and Manitoba have already recognized PTSD as a workplace illness.
“We’re behind on this and we’re counting on the government coming through,” DiNovo said Monday, adding it has been “highly insulting” to first-responders to have to prove their troubles began on the job.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown praised the new measures, but noted they do “little to help” first-responders who have had claims rejected by the WSIB over the years.
As part of the effort, Ontario will launch a $300,000-advertising campaign on radio and digital media in March to boost awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder and to ease the stigma it carries.
“The fear of being perceived as weak, as being damaged or ashamed leaves many to suffer alone,” Flynn said in his speech to dozens of firefighters from across the province at a health and safety seminar.
“We want the general public to understand what you face on a daily basis,” he added. “It’s only appropriate for us to have your back.”