ABOVE: Global’s Sean Mallen asked Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn why the government hasn’t taken more concrete action to address PTSD in first responders.
TORONTO – The Ontario government’s long-awaited report on how to tackle trauma among first responders is sure about one thing: More needs to be done.
It just isn’t sure what.
The report makes 14 recommendations but does “not evaluate or assess the feasibility of ideas discussed.”
Twenty-three first responders across the country – 17 in Ontario – have killed themselves since April 29. The issue has come to the fore once again with the high-profile deaths of Ottawa police officer Kal Ghadban and New Brunswick RCMP Cpl. Ron Francis, who was found in his home dead Monday.
Chief among the reports’ recommendations are ways to change the culture within first responder institutions. First responders who treat or suffer from PTSD have been saying loudly for months the culture inside their workplaces needs to change.
“There was also a strong view that changing workplace culture is largely about removing stigma,” the report reads. “Changing attitudes cannot be achieved without ensuring proper supports are in place.”
The report also recommends recruiters should advertise their jobs “realistically” to “ensure recruits and young people are aware of the risks that they may face.”
The report paints a picture of a provincial bureaucracy too inflexible to deal with mental illness, and raises concerns about “the lack of a unified, coordinated and automatic response following a traumatic event in the workplace.”
But instead of recommending immediate action, it recommends having another conference in 2015.
“I think the time the committee spent on this was time well spent,” Ontario Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s time to move forward. So, you’re right, I think people want quick action on this and I think from here on you’ll be seeing a program certainly coming out of the Ministry of Labour that speaks to these issues.”
WATCH: Sean Mallen reports on the Ontario government’s report and what it hopes to accomplish.
But Flynn wouldn’t commit to any one recommendation until the conference – which he hopes will be in the first two months of 2015 – is finished.
Vince Savoia, founder of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, has been tracking the number of suicides among first responders since April. The Tema Conter Memorial Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping first responders deal with job-related traumatic stress.
He’s glad the report is finally out but says most of the recommendations aren’t new.
“What concerns me is they’re calling for a second conference in 2015 and I really do have to ask, what is it going to take? How many more suicidal deaths do first responders have to experience before government actually takes the bull by the horns and actually does what needs to be done?”
He was also disappointed that his foundation’s board – made up largely of first responders who’ve dealt with PTSD themselves – wasn’t included in the report’s consultations.
“We’ve been knocking on government’s door for the past 13 years and for whatever reason we’re not taken seriously,” Savoia said. “When you look at the people involved in our organization, we have clinicians, we have retired first responders – we’ve been there, we know what needs to be done, we just don’t understand why it’s taking so long.”
The Ontario 2014 budget included $4.5 million for the Ontario Provincial Police to spend on mental health training for officers. The Office of the Fire Marshall, the fire college and WSIB have all implemented their own programs to educate employees about PTSD.
Dr. Jeff Morley, a clinical psychologist who spent 23 years with the RCMP, said first responders are at least twice as likely to be diagnosed with PTSD.
The report also recommends minimum standards are put in place for workplace training. Flynn said Tuesday he would “guarantee” just that, if that’s among the recommendations that come out of the 2015 workshop.
But Savoia said the government can act right now. NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo introduced a private members bill in July that would make it easier for first responders suffering from PTSD to receive benefits. Right now, they have to prove they have the disorder before receiving any help from WSIB – DiNovo’s bill seeks to remove that requirement.
“If they truly want to help first responders, they can easily table their own bill for presumptive disability. They don’t need to wait for a private members bill to make its way through the legislature,” Savoia said. “They can easily introduce this bill tomorrow and have it passed sooner rather than later.”
– With files from Sean Mallen
If you, a family member or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, or you believe they may be suffering from severe depression and/or anxiety, there are many organizations available to help including the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. A lengthy list can be found here.