Manitoba government to speed up PTSD help for all workers

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
June 09, 2015
By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
The Manitoba government introduced legislation Monday that it says will provide the broadest workers compensation coverage in Canada for post-traumatic stress.
The bill – like an existing law in Alberta and changes being eyed in some other provinces – would recognize post-traumatic stress disorder as a work-related occupational disease for first responders such as police officers and firefighters.

It would also, like the Alberta law, start from the presumption that the PTSD stemmed from an event or events at work, as long as a medical professional diagnoses it as such.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said his NDP government is going a step further by applying the law to all workers covered by the province's Workers Compensation Board – nurses, retail store employees and more – and not just first responders.

"It makes sense to deal with (PTSD) regardless of what occupation you have, what job you have. If you're experiencing the issue, it impairs your ability to do your job," Selinger said.

The move was welcomed by several union leaders Monday. Sandi Mowat, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, said many of her 12,000 members have faced uphill battles in getting help.

"Nurses are often misdiagnosed with occupational burnout or compassion," she said.

Having any PTSD presumed to be work-related should mean faster access to treatment and compensation. The move is, in essence, a reverse of onus.

No longer will workers be pressed to prove a direct link between their condition and events on the job, said Alex Forrest, president of the province's largest firefighters union. Instead, a doctor's diagnosis that would include a reference to a workplace event would suffice.

The Workers Compensation Board said it does not expect the change to drive up rates paid by employers. The board does not expect a big surge in claims and has healthy reserve funds, spokesman Warren Preece said.

Selinger said faster treatment has a financial upside.

"You could make the argument that more rapid access to better-quality treatment actually will be preventative of further problems later on."

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is not buying that argument. The group's Manitoba director, Elliott Sims, said his group recognizes PTSD should be covered, but fears that automatically presuming it stems from work could spark a sharp rise in claims and the rates employers pay.

"I have not seen any costing numbers done on this proposed change. The policy is coming before the due diligence has been done."

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