Once scorned, Ontario nurses gear up to push for recognition in federal PTSD bill

Ontario's nursing association is vowing not to let history repeat itself as a new federal PTSD bill works its way through the House of Commons.

Nurses, excluded from provincial legislation, say they won’t let it happen at federal level

Vicki McKenna, first vice-president of the Ontario Nurses' Association, wants to see nurses included in a federal PTSD bill. (CBC)

Ontario's nursing association is vowing not to let history repeat itself as a new federal post-traumatic stress disorder bill works its way through the House of Commons.

Vicki McKenna, vice-president of the Ontario Nurses' Association (ONA,) says that nurses in Ontario and across Canada will push to be included in Bill C-211, which proposes the creation of a national framework for PTSD and which thus far is aimed specifically at first responders, veterans and the military.

She's still feeling the sting from being excluded from Ontario's 2016 PTSD law, which aimed to make it easier for first responders to access treatment and benefits by removing the need to prove that a PTSD diagnosis is linked to a workplace event.

"We had no idea that the [provincial] government had decided we weren't first responders," she said, adding that she and her organization were "devastated" to not be mentioned.  

Nurses exposed to guns, violence, abuse: McKenna

McKenna argues that nurses experience trauma in the workplace to rival any paramedic or police officer in the field.

"When you work with people who are dying, those kinds of situations can cause people great distress and lead to PTSD," she explained

That distress isn't limited to the emergency room either, she said.

"A public health nurse going into a home visit … they walk into situations where there are guns, where there is violence, where there is abuse … Those things build up over time."

Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, told CBC Toronto she thinks the fact that 94 per cent of nurses in Canada are women might be playing a role.

Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, said that uneven legislation on PTSD recognition and treatment is a problem around the country. (CBC)

"When you're talking about female workers, the symptoms of PTSD are very different," and are often misdiagnosed as depression, she said.

"That is one of the reasons that legislators will not look at including nurses in their definitions of PTSD."

Push planned at provincial, national level

Silas said that her organization is still in the early stages of their planned press for inclusion in Bill C-211.

"We will strategize with our national board, but for sure we were be meeting with the federal health minister," she said.

McKenna and the ONA are also gearing up.

"We will be talking to our MPs," she said. "We have to do our best to make sure that [exclusion] doesn't happen."

The Conservative MP for Barrie-Innisfil, John Brassard, who seconded the bill, told CBC Toronto he's already received phone calls from doctors and nurses about being included — something he said he's open to.

"They suffer from PTSD as well so while the bill talks about first responders, there's no reason to think the scope can't be expanded," he told CBC Toronto.

Conservative member Todd Doherty represents Cariboo-Prince George, B.C. He introduced a private member's bill in January 2016 that aims to create a national framework for dealing with PTSD. (Conservative Party of Canada)

The bill's author, British Columbia Conservative MP Todd Doherty, told CBC Toronto that the words "first responders" are deliberately vague to allow for conversation down the line.

He said that any discussion of who exactly ought to qualify as a first responder will have to wait until the bill passes a vote in the House of Commons in the coming weeks and moves to the committee stage.