BOSTON – On December 13, 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.
“Our first responders can often experience high levels of stress, caused by the dangerous circumstances they can experience while doing their job,” said Senator Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington). “This bill will help our firefighters, law enforcement officers, and paramedics get confidential access to mental health services that they need without fear of stigma. I’m grateful that my colleagues have made it a priority to put vital protections in place for the individuals who protect us every day.”
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. To continue tracking the legislation, S.2633, please visit the Legislature’s website, www.malegislature.gov.
Friedman represents the 4th Middlesex district, which includes Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, Woburn and precincts 1-2 and 4-7 in Lexington. For more information, please visit www.cindyfriedman.org.