Oxford County first responders react to new provincial legislation regarding PTSD

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Oxford County's emergency workers are pleased with new provincial legislation that now recognizes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a work-related illness for first responders, saying it's a step in the right direction.

Stephen Turner, deputy chief of Oxford CountyEMS, said the new legislation should prove helpful for staff who have difficulty isolating a specific event that could have led to issues with PTSD.

"The previous situation required being able to identify one single causative event and putting everything against that," Turner said. "That was the framework that WSIB worked in.

"Now with this legislation, it can probably be presumed that if PTSD was acquired by an emergency responder, it probably occurred from an exposure in the work place. But we don't have to tie it back to that specific event."

Turner said the new legislation will allow for a more timely response and support for employees, but added that it's not the "be all and end-all."

"The other component is that we need to make sure that we have supports in place within our work place," he said. "That's why we've developed protocols and a peer support team and training for all of our staff, family members and management."

Turner said his team is very encouraged by the change, adding they've been waiting a long time.

"I think they've been patiently waiting," he said.

Woodstock police Chief William Renton said the legislation is a great start and will be a "big part of the solution."

"PTSD certainly is a reality in policing and emergency services," Renton said. "We expect our members to go from a normal situation to one of extreme intensity and danger, the old zero to a hundred factor sort of thing. It's difficult, and it can be extremely stressful on our members and often those stressful situations tend to compound and we do have to do something for them."

Renton added that all of the other systems have to be built into the package. There needs to be a means to diagnose, understand and identify these stresses among first responders, so that members can be provided with preventative assistance. Renton said there is also a critical need for education - sharing what programs are available for workers - as well as eliminating stigma that surrounds PTSD.

"There's a lot of work to be done on the implementation and execution of these programs, all of which will obviously come with a cost," he said.

Renton said his whole team is in support of the new legislation, adding that anything for the well-being of their officers is a good thing.

"The wellness of our members is our main priority," he said. "Anything we can do to better provide our members with the assistance in regards to mental health issues, we certainly will do. And anytime we can do the preventative aspects of it before they have to suffer through the mental health issues is paramount to us."

The new legislation passed its third and final reading by a vote of 96-to-0 on Tuesday.

bchessell@postmedia.com

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