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NAPE calls for new legislation to recognize, compensate employees who suffer mental health injuries

The Waterford Hospital in St. John’s.
LPN Ray Clarke was attacked by a patient at the Waterford Hospital in St. John’s in 2013. - File shot

It started as a typical workday for Ray Clarke, but ended with him in a hospital bed as a result of a brutal beating while on duty.

“It was pretty horrendous,” said the 58-year-old, a psychiatric licensed practical nurse at the Waterford Hospital in St. John’s, recalling the day in May 2013 when a patient attacked him.

“I was beat up pretty bad.”

In the 20 years he’s been on the job, Clarke has dealt with many other emotionally disturbing episodes.

And he’s not alone. As president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) local representing employees at the hospital, Clarke has spoken with co-workers who have experienced or witnessed troubling, and sometimes frightening, incidents while on the job.

“I’m not just talking physical (injuries). It can be (mental injuries) from threats of violence — someone’s threatening to beat you up or to visit your home and threatening to do harm to your family,” said Clarke, adding that long-lasting impact can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“That stuff stays with you.”

Clarke is one of many employees who are speaking out about the importance of recognizing mental health injuries in the workplace.

As part its “Workplace Mental Health Legislation — Let’s Get it Right” public relations advertising campaign, launched Monday, NAPE is calling on the provincial government to make legislative change to enact workplace mental health legislation.

This province is one of the last in Canada to do so and NAPE said it can’t wait any longer.

Earlier this year, NAPE released a position paper titled “A Call for presumptive legislation: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Occupational Stress Injuries, and the Wellbeing of the Workforce.” This working paper was prepared by Dr. Rosemary Ricciardelli and Dr. Alan Hall of Memorial University and commissioned by NAPE. The report was submitted to the government to better inform their workplace mental health review.

The paper’s key recommendation is for the province to enact comprehensive presumptive legislation for all workers, not just first responders.

It includes a proposal that legislation be changed to give the benefit of the doubt to the worker when a claim for compensation has been made, so they don’t have to prove that the cause of their diagnosed disorder was their work to receive compensation benefits.

Clarke said employees who suffer workplace mental health injuries often have to go through a difficult process to get compensation, since coverage is not guaranteed and it’s often challenged.

“If I get hurt physically tomorrow, I go see my doctor, go to workers’ compensation, start a claim and I get covered for treatments. No trouble,” he said. “However, if I’m a witness to violence or a victim of violence or experiencing long-term stress from the workplace and have some underlying mental illness or some feelings that requires me to take time off, in order to do that and be covered, I have to get a diagnosis from a psychiatrist and that can take up to two years. That’s just not right.”

Clarke said not all employees with mental health injuries have the benefit of an employee assistance program and many aren’t able to take sick leave. They are often forced to keep working or else go without pay.

He also said there’s still stigma surrounding mental health illnesses, and many people don’t seek help.

“So, if we’re putting up more barriers, it’s not helping the problem,” Clarke said. “It’s time for this to change.”

NAPE president Jerry Earle — who worked as a paramedic — said workers need and deserve supports in place to deal with their work-related mental health injuries. He said the government needs to act now to make legislative change.

“The last thing a person suffering from a mental health injury needs is to face a whole barrage of red tape and bureaucracy,” he said.

rosie.mullaley@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelyRosie

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