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By Janis Ramsay

Today is an important day for paramedic Natalie Harris.

The Barrie resident lives with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is celebrating the province’s passing of the Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act, which allows faster access to benefits and treatment through Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

“The first responder family is celebrating a long-awaited victory,” Harris said Tuesday.

“The passing of Bill 163 will finally make WSIB recognize the emotional toll our profession takes on us.”

However, while she’s pleased with the bill, Harris is also remembering all of the lives lost to PTSD and the families that have been forever affected prior to this bill.

Through the bill, once a first responder is diagnosed with PTSD by either a psychiatrist or a psychologist, a WSIB benefit claim will be expedited without the need to prove a causal link between PTSD and a workplace event.

Professions encompassed by the bill include police officers, firefighters, paramedics, certain workers in correctional institutions and secure youth justice facilities, dispatchers of police, fire and ambulance services, and emergency response teams.

The act also allows the Minister of Labour to request employers’ PTSD prevention plans, which can then be published.

“We know PTSD is a serious and debilitating injury and that Ontario’s dedicated first responders are more than twice as likely to suffer from it,” Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said.

“They put themselves in harm’s way each and every day to ensure our safety, and we need to be sure they have the resources and treatment they need to heal and return to work safely.”

The act recognizes the importance of psychological health in the workplace, Flynn added.

PTSD PEER SUPPORT:

• Harris is hosting her inaugural Wings of Change PTSD Peer Support Group meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Canadian Mental Health Association, 128 Anne St. S. The meetings will be held on the first Tuesday of the month.

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