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B.C. extends PTSD presumption to nurses, care aids, dispatchers

Several factors considered for each occupation, such as nature of work, potential for exposure to traumatic events
| www.cos-mag.com
A nurse prepares for the first patients in the first SARS Clinic at St. Vincent Hospital in Vancouver in 2003. REUTERS/Andy Clark

Emergency dispatchers, nurses and publicly funded health-care assistants in British Columbia now have easier access to workers’ compensation for mental-health disorders stemming from work-related trauma. Under new amendments to the Mental Disorder Presumption Regulation, if these workers develop a mental health disorder, it will be presumed to have been due to the nature of their work. With a presumptive condition, there is no longer a need to prove that a claimant’s disease or disorder is work-related once a formal diagnosis has been made.

“These changes… are about fairness and support for workers who experience higher-than-average mental harm due to the jobs they do,” said Minister of Labour Harry Bains.

Last spring, the B.C. government amended the Workers Compensation Act to add post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental-health disorders to the list of illnesses that are recognized as being associated with certain professions, specifically police, firefighters, paramedics, sheriffs and correctional officers.

“I also acknowledged the need to look at other sectors for these presumptions, because certain professions are more likely to experience trauma on the job that can lead to mental illness,” Bains said. “Since last spring, we have been working with those sectors, and I am very pleased to expand the mental health presumption to nurses, emergency dispatchers and publicly-funded health-care assistants.”

Several factors were considered for each occupation, such as the nature of the work, potential for exposure to traumatic events, rates of workers’ compensation claims for mental illness in each type of job and financial impacts of extending the presumption to the occupation. The move is good news for B.C.’s emergency call-takers and dispatchers said Oliver Grüter-Andrew, CEO of E-Comm, the largest 911 call centre in B.C.

“There is no doubt that, day in and day out, our people can experience high levels of emotional stress, as they work to save lives and support police and firefighters,” he said. “They are the first contact for people experiencing trauma and that is often traumatic for them, as well.”

The BC Nurses’ Union — who has spent over two years highlighting the prevalence of violence and PTSD in the profession — is hopeful that the announcement will provide resources and support for nurses who are suffering.

The Hospital Employees' Union also welcomed the change.

"Health-care assistants provide frontline care in long-term care homes, hospitals, home care and other settings," said Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-business manager of the union. "Care aides frequently experience violence in the workplace; witness and respond to violence, suicides and unexpected deaths; and often face threats and intimidation. (The) announcement acknowledges their valuable contributions to care, and especially of the toll that trauma experienced on-the-job can have on them.”

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