December 21 2018,  Everett

DiDomenico & Senate Pass Bill to Support First Responders

DiDomenico & Senate Pass Bill to Support First Responders

Bill Seeks to Improve Mental Health Service Confidentiality and Access

BOSTON – Last week, Senator Sal DiDomenico and his colleagues in the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation to ensure confidentiality for first responders when participating in peer support services following critical incidents.  The bill, which had already passed the Senate unanimously earlier this year, returned to the Chamber after an amendment was offered by the House of Representatives.

“The confidentiality provisions in this bill will ensure that our first responders have the privacy protections they need and deserve when it comes seeking mental health care,” said Senator DiDomenico. “Our firefighters, law enforcement officials, and paramedics constantly put themselves into the most stressful and dangerous of situations to protect our public safety, and it is critical that they have access to the services needed to deal with this stress without fear of stigmatization.”

“First responders—the men and women who keep us safe in the most trying of circumstances—work under high levels of stress, and often are left to fend for themselves when it comes to personal mental health care,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland).  “This bill grants those first responders the access they deserve to confidential support, and allows them to seek help without fear of retribution or stigma.”

 “In times of crisis our police, firefighters, and first responders put themselves in dangerous and stressful situations to keep us safe,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce E. Tarr (R-Gloucester).  “They need and deserve the ability to effectively deal with that stress, and this legislation will make that possible. I am grateful to be able to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance it.”

Responding to a critical incident can have a significant effect on the mental health of the Commonwealth’s firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement officers. In order to ensure prompt access to the necessary services, many departments rely on trained peer support counselors. These counselors can direct the affected first responders to the necessary mental health support services, or offer their own support as needed.

However, the lack of confidentiality afforded these peer support counselors has complicated their roles, and dissuaded some first responders from using this service.  The sensitive nature of mental health issues is further compounded by concerns that first responders will experience professional adversity due to their decision to seek mental help.  Basic confidentiality protections will encourage greater participation, expanding access to services and improving the mental health and performance of first responders.

The legislation passed by the Senate provides that a critical incident stress management team member shall not be required to testify or divulge any information obtained during the receipt of critical incident stress or crisis intervention services.  The language also provides for limited exemptions, including when a person is in danger of serious bodily harm or death, or if the information indicates the existence of a crime.

The Senate has now approved a version of the bill which will return to the House for reconsideration.

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