British Columbia

B.C. first responders get easier access to mental health support

First responders, from paramedics to correctional staff, will no longer have to prove their specific condition was work-related.
A paramedic watches as crews tend to a collision involving an ambulance in Vancouver. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

B.C. is moving to give first responders easier access to mental health support, meaning they will no longer have to prove a condition is work related.

Labour Minister Harry Bains announced legislative amendments on April 11 that will allow first responders, sheriffs and correctional officers who experience job-related trauma and are diagnosed with a mental disorder to get assistance without providing proof that the injury was related to their work.

"These changes are about fairness and support for workers who put their lives on the line," Bains said in a press release.

"They should not have the added stress of having to prove that their disorder is work related, in order to receive support and compensation."

Presumptive conditions

The proposed amendments to the Workers Compensation Act will be introduced this week and, if approved by the legislature, will add PTSD and other mental disorders to a recognized list of presumptive conditions associated with specific types of jobs.

For example, the proposed amendments will extend existing cancer presumptions for municipal firefighters to include all federal firefighters on military bases, recognizing they may be exposed to dangerous substances and frequently assist municipalities at off-base incidents.

BC Health Emergency Services trains first responders to deal with the everyday stresses and demands of dealing with emergency scenarios using a mannequin. (Provincial Health Services Authority/YouTube)

A group representing firefighters in Vancouver applauded the move, saying in a statement that the amendments are especially timely as crews respond to a rising number of overdoses in the ongoing opioid crisis.

"It's incredibly significant to have the provincial government recognize this," said Robert Weeks of the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters.

The changes have been sought for a long time by groups advocating for injured workers.

Former paramedic Lisa Jennings has been pushing for better support for first responders since 2014, when she set up the group You Are Not Alone PTSD B.C. Jennings's life fell apart after a PTSD-triggering incident on the job that year.

She said she is thrilled by the news.

"Now our first responders in B.C. will no longer have to be re-traumatized to prove what medical science has shown to be fact," she told the CBC.

Jennings says she knows of eight suicides since January, all but three involving people who were denied mental health injury claims.

With files from Canadian Press