VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The union representing nurses across BC say coming changes to provincial law which will give first responders better access to treatment for PTSD and other mental health conditions should also include members of that profession.
“I think that what these first responders have in common with nurses is the routine exposure to trauma during the work they do,” explains Christine Sorensen, BC Nurses Union acting president. “The routine exposure over and over to patient trauma puts us in the exact same category.”
She says nurses are exposed to very similar kinds of trauma that first responders deal with — vicarious trauma — in emergency rooms and ICUs. “But also in our palliative care units, in community and residential care. Nurses are exposed to violence nearly everyday in health care, and then that combined with the tragic sort of incidents, or the tragedies, that they’re dealing with in patient care, absolutely.”
The union welcomes the changes the provincial government plans to bring in, which will speed up treatment for firefighters, cops, paramedics, sheriffs and correctional officers.
However, Sorensen is disappointed the legislation was not extended to nurses, despite an acknowledgement of what these professionals are exposed to.
“We certainly have spoken to both the minister of health, the minister of labour,” she says. “We have had numerous other conversations with other MLAs in regards to violence in healthcare, and certainly in this province. All of the parties have signed, all three leaders of the parties, numerous MLAs within the legislature have acknowledged that violence within healthcare is a significant problem and subsequent to that, what comes from that kind of exposure to violence is the risk for nurses with mental illness and then PTSD.”
Sorensen adds a number of nurses have reached out to her to say how shocked and disappointed they are in the proposed legislation.
According to the BCNU, the provincial government has enough data to show what kind of traumas nurses face regularly. “The data shows that from 2016, nurses accounted for nearly 12 per cent of all mental disorder claims, and over 10 per cent of all claims registered for PTSD,” she tells NEWS 1130. “So nurses are exposed to, and are reporting, violence and mental disorders, mental illness and PTSD and they’re not being listened to by WorkSafe.”
The province announced on Wednesday it would make changes in order to quickly compensate emergency workers recovering from job-related mental illness.
Services already provided under the Workers Compensation Act are being expanded, so firefighters, paramedics, police officers, sheriffs and corrections officers no longer have to prove their illness is caused by their work.
Labour Minister Harry Bains has said he’s already examining how to expand the Bill 9 legislation to include other workers in high-risk occupations.