A bill to give workers coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder may never become law despite passing in the legislature in December.
That’s because the governing Liberals started debate Friday on a new bill they tabled to amend the Workers Compensation Act and replace the one they already voted for.
Workforce Minister Sonny Gallant brought the bill to the floor and said he thought the spirit of the private member’s bill passed last year was good.
“However, I sincerely feel like we have to do more for all Islanders in the workforce,” he said.
The bill MLAs passed in the fall sitting included amendments to the Workers Compensation Act to provide coverage for people with PTSD.
It also gave physicians the ability to diagnose PTSD in Workers Compensation Board cases.
That bill passed unanimously, but cabinet never proclaimed it and it never came into effect.
When the Liberals tabled their bill, it was similar to the one passed in December, but with expanded coverage.
It also limited diagnosis of PTSD to psychiatrists and psychologists.
Gallant said there have been three cases involving PTSD claims before the WCB since the bill passed in December and two of those have been dealt with under policies already in place.
“People were still protected,” he said.
As the debate continued, Opposition MLAs questioned the decision to remove physicians from the bill.
Kate Marshall, director of workplace services for the Workers Compensation Board, was on the floor of the legislature with Gallant where she said some doctors may not be comfortable doing a diagnosis and may end up submitting a report that’s not comprehensive enough.
Marshall said a diagnosis of PTSD requires an in-depth assessment that can take up to four hours.
“While there are family physicians who feel they have the expertise to diagnose PTSD or other trauma and stress-related disorders we felt that it was a relatively small proportion of family physicians and we don’t want to put that added burden on them,” she said.
Marshall added the board also doesn’t want to get an incorrect diagnosis because a physician doesn’t have time to do a full assessment.
Jason Woodbury, Miscouche’s fire chief and president of CUPE local 3324, was at the legislature Friday to watch the debate and spoke to the media after it adjourned for the day.
Woodbury said he commended the government for including work-related stressors as a cause of PTSD in its bill, but didn’t agree with limiting diagnosis to psychiatrists and psychologists.
“We have some concerns with that because certainly there is a shortage of psychologists and psychiatrists in the province that are accessible for any of our members that need to seek those services,” he said.
After watching the debate, Woodbury said the government had the opportunity to proclaim the private member’s bill and he didn’t know what the delay was.
“At the end of the day the workers on Prince Edward Island are suffering and this bill needs to be proclaimed immediately,” he said.