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Newfoundland and Labrador introduces greater coverage for mental injuries

Maureen Brennan, a former nurse, says Tuesday’s announcement was a validation of her experiences with PTSD as a nurse
Maureen Brennan, a former nurse, says Tuesday’s announcement was a validation of her experiences with PTSD as a nurse - David Maher

On-the-job mental injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, will be granted presumptive coverage by government

(From left) Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh, Premier Dwight Ball, and Workplace NL CEO Dennis Hogan outline changes to post-traumatic stress disorder coverage.
(From left) Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh, Premier Dwight Ball, and Workplace NL CEO Dennis Hogan outline changes to post-traumatic stress disorder coverage.

Maureen Brennan was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of her work as a nurse in the critical care ward in 2016.

“That was 28 years in the making – it’s not something that happened overnight,” said Brennan.

“As a nurse, we see a lot, and we hear a lot, and we feel a lot over our career. That definitely does impact on our mental health.”

Brennan’s diagnosis was covered through the Workplace Health, Safety, and Compensation Act because of how pronounced her injury was.

“I just walked out of my workplace one morning – I knew I couldn’t take anymore,” said Brennan.

“When I left, I felt broken. I felt like I was responsible. I felt like I was the problem.”

Once amendments to the Act are passed by the House of Assembly, it will become quicker and easier for first responders and every worker in the province to receive benefits for mental injuries sustained in the workforce.

The amendments will come into effect on July 1, 2019. Before, if a worker had suffered from a mental injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, it was up to the worker to prove the injury happened in the workplace.

Now, as long as a worker is diagnosed by a medical professional who agrees the injury happened as a result of incidents in the workplace, they no longer have to go through a process to prove the injury happened in the workplace and they can receive benefits sooner.

For Brennan, the amendments are a recognition of the realities of working in some of the toughest workplaces in the province.

“Eastern Health and the provincial government have acknowledged that this has happened, and they’re going to do something about it. That’s incredibly therapeutic,” she said.

The changes come after previous changes to how mental injuries are covered in the workplace. In March, government removed an exclusion for the inherent risk of certain occupations. Previously, firefighters, for example, were not covered under Service NL’s mental stress policy due to the high-stress nature of certain jobs. Now, all workers are included – from bank tellers to paramedics.

“People are no longer hiding in the shadows, trying to deal with mental health challenges on their own,” said Service NL Minister Sherry Gambin-Walsh.

The changes are estimated to cost government between $7.6 million and $15.1 million in additional claims. The average cost per claim for a public-sector worker will be $125,000 per claim.

There will be impacts on Employer Assessment Rates, though government is decreasing the current cost to about $1.69 per $100 of payroll.

The claims will not be retroactive. Only workers whose injuries take place after July 1, 2019 will be able to apply for the presumptive status.

Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Joe Boland says Tuesday’s announcement is good news for police, as well.

“These jobs are tough. They need support in our community,” he said.

NAPE President Jerry Earle applauded government for the move.

“We’ve been advocating for this for some time,” said Earle.

“I was a paramedic myself, I know what many of these workers go through. Mental health doesn’t discriminate. It could be anybody. It’s important that everyone is covered from the get-go.”

Some initial concerns were brought forward by the Newfoundland and Labrador Employers Council about injuries that took place outside of the workplace now being covered through Workplace NL.

Service NL clarified the concerns, saying the previous appeals process for workplaces are unchanged as a result of the new rules.

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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