BOSTON – The Massachusetts State Senate took action to ensure confidentiality for first responders when participating in peer support services following critical incidents.

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.

“Police officers, firefighters, and paramedics work under trying circumstances in the best of times, and these critical incidents can greatly increase the dangers associated with mental health” said Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury). “These sensible confidentiality protections will allow our firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement officers to seek the help they need without fear of stigmatization.

“I’m very thankful to Senator Moore and the Senate for their diligent work to pass this profoundly important bill” said Auburn Police Chief Andrew J. Sluckis Jr. “It is my hope that the House of Representatives will promptly adopt the language passed by the Senate. Given the fact that 73 police officers have committed suicide this year, it would be a tragedy if a Massachusetts first responder were to take their own life because they could not access the proper services. This has been an especially difficult year for first responders across Massachusetts, and this bill would provide a much needed safety net for Massachusetts firefighters, law enforcement officers, and paramedics.”

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 does provide for limited exemptions, including when an person is in danger of serious bodily harm or death, or if the information indicates the existence of a crime.

“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.”

The legislation, which passed the Senate unanimously, has now been referred to the House of Representatives for consideration. To continue tracking the bill, S.2633, please visit the Legislature’s website, www.malegislature.gov.