Nurses in Alberta push for presumptive coverage for psychological injuries

Petition calling for changes tabled in legislative assembly on Tuesday

Nurses in Alberta push for presumptive coverage for psychological injuries

Nurses play a pivotal role in saving lives, providing care, and ensuring the well-being of countless patients. Yet, their own well-being is often overlooked, especially when it comes to the psychological toll their profession can take. A recent petition has brought this issue to the forefront, as nurses in Alberta push for presumptive coverage for traumatic psychological injuries.

"Nurses should not be forced to wait for – or be denied – access to workers’ compensation benefits after experiencing traumatic events while on the job,” explains Heather Murray, an emergency and trauma nurse, and the United Nurses of Alberta Local 68 president.

Murray is spearheading this initiative, advocating for nurses to have access to presumptive coverage for compensation. Presumptive coverage would mean that the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) would presume that a confirmed psychological or psychiatric injury occurred due to an incident at work, reducing the arduous process of proving causation.

Murray collected more than 1,000 signatures from nurses and supporters in just a matter of weeks. The petition was tabled in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly on Tuesday. It calls on the government to include presumptive coverage legislation for any nurse registered or licensed with an Alberta college of nursing.

"Nurses are on the front lines of the healthcare system and should be included with other front-line workers like emergency medical workers, firefighters, dispatchers, police, and corrections officers in not needing to provide proof of a causal link to post-traumatic stress disorder and workplace incidents to receive coverage," says Heather Smith, president of United Nurses of Alberta.

Nurses often find themselves in situations where they are routinely exposed to traumatic events in the workplace. The nature of their work involves dealing with patients in crisis, traumatic injuries and death, ethical decision-making, and advocating for patient safety. The cumulative effect of these experiences can lead to psychological injuries.

Cameron Westhead, UNA's second vice president, says they’ve been pushing for this change for decades. "It seems odd that a female-dominated profession, which deals with similar types of traumatic events at work, is excluded from this very necessary kind of workplace coverage," Westhead states.

Currently, only four provinces in Canada do not include nurses in presumptive legislation for workplace-related PTSD and traumatic mental health injuries. This exclusion creates a significant barrier for nurses, who are twice as likely as the public to suffer from diagnoses such as PTSD.

The petition's wording is straightforward and compelling:

“We, the undersigned residents of Alberta, petition the Legislative Assembly to urge the Government to introduce legislation to amend the Workers’ Compensation Act to extend presumptive coverage for workplace injuries related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other traumatic mental health injuries to all nurses who hold a practice permit or are registered with a college of a regulated profession under the Health Professions Act.”

Despite the challenges nurses face in their advocacy efforts, they have garnered widespread support from political leaders. Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview MLA Peggy Wright tabled the petition in the Legislative Assembly, with support from Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman, Edmonton-City Centre MLA David Shepherd, Calgary-Varsity MLA Luanne Metz, and Calgary-Currie MLA Janet Eremenko.

The road to legislative change may be long, but nurses in Alberta are determined to make their voices heard and take care of themselves so they can take care of Albertans.