A former Nova Scotia MP is calling for better accessibility to treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for police officers, paramedics, correctional officers and other first responders in the eastern provinces, following recent reports that the Halifax Regional Police (HRP) could not cover treatment for at least two officers.
Peter Stoffer, a part-time advocate with Trauma Healing Centers in Dartmouth, N.S. and the NDP MP for the Sackville area from 1997 to 2015, referred to “a bit of a bureaucratic malaise” that had prevented one of the officers from getting treatment in Ontario, as her medical team had advised her, on the HRP’s dime.
“There’s only X number of dollars within the budget, and there are contractual obligations according to their collective agreement. That’s from my understanding,” said Stoffer. “There are always exceptions to collective agreements. There are ways the union and management could sit down together to see what can be done in order to ensure that this woman gets the best help that they can possibly give her.”
He added that a treatment facility for the Atlantic provinces, specifically designed for all first responders and the military, would be a “wonderful” idea.
“It would go a long way to, one, accessing the care, the professional-quality care that people are looking for, without really having to move away from the region,” said Stoffer. “And then it would probably end up saving money, because then, you don’t have to move people to either Ontario or Montreal or where else to get the treatment that they’re looking for.”
An online CBC News report from Oct. 4 sparked brief controversy when it quoted HRP Chief Jean-Michel Blais on the issue. The story appeared to imply that Chief Blais – a champion of mental-health awareness who has talked openly about his personal experiences with PTSD – wanted the onus to be on the officers themselves to get treatment and that PTSD was overshadowing other mental-health illnesses in the department.
While Stoffer said he had been “disappointed” by Chief Blais’ comments in the story, he conceded that Blais had probably been misunderstood.
“The chief had responded in kind to what was happening, and unfortunately, I think the message was lost in translation, as they say,” said Stoffer regarding the CBC story.
The HRP declined to comment on any specific cases, but in an e-mailed reply to COHSN, Chief Blais said that the mental and physical health of employees is a top priority for the force.
“We have done extensive work over the past few years in this area,” said Chief Blais, citing HRP initiatives like the Road to Mental Health Readiness program, the Employee & Families Assistance Program and the establishment of its first wellness-coordinator position.
“All of these steps have brought health and wellness to the forefront, and it includes a range of mental-health issues, not simply PTSD,” he added. “We are also going through independent processes that may help determine the future direction of the level of supports available – and we look forward to the outcomes.
“As public-sector organizations, these discussions are critical to have – as they highlight the importance of openly talking about mental-health issues like PTSD, as well as our broader organizational obligations.”
Stoffer said he believed that the aforementioned officer should get the treatment she needs in Ontario through the HRP’s assistance. “For me, that’s the straightforward solution,” he said.
“The woman served her municipality, she’s a police officer, she’s one of the heroes of our country. We never ask them about dollars and cents when they face a very difficult and dangerous situation. Why, then, should we be questioning the nickels and dimes when they need help?”