British Columbia

B.C. expands mental health supports to some emergency professionals but not others

The B.C. government has passed a bill giving first responders easier access to mental health supports but some say the legislation doesn't go far enough.

Green Party says 911 dispatchers, nurses and others should be included

Paramedics and other first responders will now be able to receive coverage for mental health benefits without having to go through the Workers Compensation Board. (Provincial Health Services Authority/YouTube)

The B.C. government has passed a bill giving first responders easier access to mental health supports, but some say the legislation doesn't go far enough. 

The Workers Compensation Amendment Act that passed third reading in the legislature Tuesday would provide such assistance to correctional officers, paramedics, firefighters, police officers and sheriffs who experience job-related trauma and are diagnosed with a mental disorder  — without having to produce additional proof the injury was related to their work.

"It doesn't put people through the horrible retelling of stories, reliving of experience, as they seek benefits that frankly they should be entitled to," said Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver. 

However, he was critical of the fact the bill didn't include emergency workers who regularly deal with traumatic incidents but aren't physically at the scene of the incident, including nurses and 911 dispatchers. 

"Often, we think about responding and only seeing as opposed to hearing," said Weaver, shortly after he finished a 45-minute speech in the legislature, bemoaning the fact he was unable to provide amendments to the legislation, because MLAs from the NDP and the B.C. Liberals wrapped up discussion during second reading before he arrived in the chamber. (Members from the other parties contend that he showed up late.).

"It also puts pressure on workplaces to clean up their act in cases where bullying and harassment is ongoing."

Last week, B.C. Nurses' Union acting president Christine Sorensen criticized the lack of coverage for nurses, who accounted for 12 per cent of all mental disorder claims in 2016, according to WorkSafeBC data.

"What these professionals have in common with nurses is the routine exposure to trauma in the course of their jobs," she said.

"This announcement discriminates against those point-of-care nurses who are psychologically impacted from providing care in traumatic situations taking place in acute, residential and community-based settings."

However, Labour Minister Harry Bains told the legislature it was likely a further expansion of benefits would take place.

"This bill — I couldn't wait any longer. These are the first responders. We must move on," he said. 

"With that, I want to say that we have a lot of work to do. This is just the beginning. I will be encouraging every one of you to give me your ideas, so that we can start to work with all workers in this province to give them the enhanced protection they need, especially on the mental health side."

With files from Megan Thomas