Ontario puts first responders first

Legislation for responders suffering from PTSD passes

The province of Ontario took a step toward protecting the mental health of the province’s first responders last week.

Under new legislation passed, first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder will receive automatic WSIB coverage. Previously, first responders were required to link their PTSD to a specific incident on the job.

Donna Ferguson, a clinical psychologist at CAMH, said the previous protocol became a barrier to recovery.

“It doesn’t validate what they’ve been through,” she said. “So they start questioning, ‘Should I be feeling this way?’”

Due to frequent exposure to traumatic stressors, first responders are two times more likely than the general population to suffer from PTSD. Geoff Macbride, president of the Toronto Paramedic Association, says that it’s also difficult to identify a specific triggering event.

“So often with this type of illness it’s a matter of cumulative injuries,” McBride said. “It’s very rare that you have one cardinal moment where you can say ‘this is where I became ill.’”

The new legislation is also an attempt to undo some of the wrong done by previous protocol. First responders with PTSD whose claims were denied within the last 24 months will be compensated retroactively. Jeff McBride says it’s a good start, but would like to see coverage extended to claimants within the last 5 years. The legislation currently applies to more than 73,000 first responders in Ontario.

The legislation addresses a stigma that may have prevented workers from coming forward.

“It’s a change in attitude where now it’s ok to look for help and recognize that you need some kind of guidance,” Toronto paramedic Angelo Hofilena said. “It’s good to know that it’s easier to seek help.”