BOSTON – Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury) announced that Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation to ensure confidentiality for first responders when participating in peer support services following critical incidents. The bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives with unanimous support in December of last year.
“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 Senator Moore. “These sensible confidentiality protections will allow our firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement officers to seek the help they need without fear of stigmatization.”
“Providing law enforcement officers with the ability to confidentially seek guidance from their peers will help them cope with the events they experience in the line of duty,” said Governor Baker. “We are thankful for the Legislature and law enforcement for their advocacy on this bill to increase support for services and reduce stigma around mental health issues.”
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 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.
“First responders put their own safety on the line to help those in need, and we need to be conscious of the mental toll that their demanding and critically important work can take,” said Public Safety Secretary Tom Turco. “This law is designed to encourage first responders to seek the assistance they may need, from peers who understand what they are going through, without the worry that doing so may damage their employment status or stigmatize them.”
The new law is codified as Chapter 329 of the Acts of 2018. To view the language, please visit the Legislature’s website, www.malegislature.gov.