Workers to qualify for PTSD coverage due to work-related trauma

The proposed changes must be approved by MHAs before they would take effect next July.

The changes must be approved by MHAs before they would take effect July 1, 2019

Sherry Gambin-Walsh, minister of Service NL, said the proposed changes are a "progressive response." (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Employees diagnosed with PTSD after suffering a traumatic event at work will presumptively qualify for workers' compensation if changes to existing legislation are approved in the House of Assembly.

The proposed amendments to the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Act were announced at a government news conference on Tuesday, and welcomed by police, nurses and other groups.

Changing the act to include presumptive coverage will mean "that a worker who experiences a traumatic event or multiple events at work will be presumed to have developed their diagnosed PTSD as a result of their work," according to government.

RNC Chief Joe Boland said "it's a great day for us."

"I think this brings a level of respect for first responders in that it's presumptive," he said, adding that policing is difficult and PTSD affects many officers.

"It's kind of like justification if you think about, you know, some of the struggles they've had to bring their stories forward."

RNC Chief Joe Boland says the change will be seen as a win for police officers who often face traumatic events as part of their duties. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The new rules would allow the workers' compensation system to help injured employees get the help they need earlier.

The PTSD diagnosis must be made by a psychiatrist or registered psychologist.

The proposed changes will be introduced Tuesday for the second reading in the House of Assembly.

If approved, the changes would take effect July 1, 2019.

Workers can qualify for coverage now, with the existing rules, through a different approval process — one that doesn't work from the assumption that a person's PTSD was caused by work.

'Workplace injury'

On hand for Tuesday's announcement was Maureen Brennan, a former intensive-care unit nurse.

Last month, Brennan shared her story about encountering situations that "the mind is not meant to deal with and to process, and that's on a daily basis."

Brennan, who has been diagnosed with PTSD, said it is a workplace injury. She was able to receive coverage through the existing system. 

She said Tuesday's announcement was validating.

"On behalf of all workers that are subjected to tragedy, trauma in the workplace, and their mental health has been affected by it, I say a thank you, from my heart, because this was a long time coming," she said at Tuesday's press conference.

"It's very therapeutic to be acknowledged for being affected or hurt by what we do, and to know that people are there to help us now, so thank you."

She started a support group for nurses and other health-care workers to help them with difficult or traumatic workplace encounters.

Brennan spoke of the positive steps Eastern Health has taken since she has reached out to the health authority's CEO.

Maureen Brennan started a support group for front-line workers after she developed PTSD while working as a nurse. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

"As a nurse, we see a lot and we hear a lot and we feel a lot over our career, and that definitely does impact on our mental health," she said.

The new legislation, if passed, won't just be for first responders or front-line healthcare workers, Premier Dwight Ball said.

"Many people are exposed to traumatic events and we want to recognise this with this decision today that PTSD affects all workers," he said. "If you're working in our province right now, covered by Workplace NL benefits, PTSD will be covered by Workplace NL."

Not everyone a fan

The Newfoundland and Labrador Employers' Council was one dissenting voice, Tuesday.

"It opens up the potential that non work-related injuries will be put into a system that's designed to deal with work-related injuries and workplaces will be asked to manage non work-related injuries in a workplace and that's something that we're not equipped to do," executive director Richard Alexander said.

"Many employers have expressed deep concern about Workplace NL's ability to manage those types of injuries."

Richard Alexander with the province's employers' council fears changing the legislation to presumtive coverage will mean employers could be responsible for PTSD cases that originated outside the workplace. (CBC)

Workplace NL is developing a mental health unit that will deal with stress-related claims that arrive, according to Workplace NL CEO Dennis Hogan.

"This is an area we've already been involved with, with our current team that are involved in the adjudication and case management of these claims, but we will further that leading up to July 1," he said.

The estimated annual cost of the injury fund is between $7.6-$15.1 million dollars, according to government.

Gambin-Walsh said over the next year government will be reviewing its mental stress policy "and perhaps after July of 2020, include presumptive psychological injuries," meaning coverage for anxiety and depression could also, one day, work in the same presumptive way that's now proposed for PTSD.

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