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As we say goodbye and good riddance to a Delta August filled with distressing news, the Senate passage of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act (S. 610) was a bright spot in a dark month. The news is especially significant, coming as it does at a time that has been almost unbearably stressful for nurses and other health care workers.

“For far too long, the stoic culture of self-sufficiency in the health care community has driven stigmatized health issues underground.”

—Jennifer Breen Feist

On August 6, the US Senate called a brief halt to their internecine battles and unanimously passed the act. Aimed to dramatically increase support and reduce the stigma of seeking mental health assistance among health care professionals, the bill is named in honor of Dr. Lorna Breen, a New York City emergency room physician who cared for Covid patients at the height of the horrific NYC outbreak in 2020. Breen contracted the virus herself and committed suicide after returning to treat the sick New Yorkers who continued pouring into city hospitals (and all too often ended up housed in refrigerated morgue trucks).

Landmark Legislation Protecting the Mental Health of HCWs

This landmark legislation is the first to allocate specific funds towards grants for training students, residents, and health care professionals in evidence-informed strategies to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders. An ANA statement celebrated the Senate passage, calling the act “Timely and critical legislation [that] will help reduce and prevent mental and behavioral health conditions… among health care professionals, especially those who continue to be overwhelmed by the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.”

“Simply put, without a healthy and whole nursing workforce, we will be unable to meet the ever-growing needs of our patients and deploy successful COVID-19 response efforts. The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is a good first step in what will be a years-long process of caring for those who have long cared for us.” 

—Ernest J. Grant

ANA President Dr. Ernest J. Grant, Ph.D., RN, FAAN also praised the nation’s nurses for their role in promoting the act: “Nurse advocates sent over 6,300 emails to Congress in support of this bill. Nurses know that the damaging aftereffects of the pandemic will linger long after they have intubated their final COVID-19 patients and grieved the loss of colleagues and loved ones. Grant added, “Simply put, without a healthy and whole nursing workforce, we will be unable to meet the ever-growing needs of our patients and deploy successful COVID-19 response efforts. The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is a good first step in what will be a years-long process of caring for those who have long cared for us.”

Breen’s sister, Jennifer Breen Feist, one of the most dedicated advocates of the act, said, “For far too long, the stoic culture of self-sufficiency in the health care community has driven stigmatized health issues underground. We sincerely thank the tireless efforts of Senator Tim Kaine in shedding light on this alarming trend, and Senators Cassidy, Young, and Reed for their leadership of this cause.”  Breen Feist co-founded the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation to advocate for the law and “to reduce burnout of health care professionals and safeguard their well-being and job satisfaction. We envision a world where seeking mental health services is universally viewed as a sign of strength for health care professionals.”

“Even before the pandemic, far too many health care workers suffered from work-related burnout and depression,” said Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), lead sponsor on the bill. “Unfortunately, these mental health challenges have only been exacerbated during COVID-19, putting the well-being of our healers at risk. I’m proud to see my bipartisan Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, legislation to equip our medical professionals with resources to cope with the challenges they face, pass the Senate today and get one step closer to becoming law.”

The legislation has been passed back to the House, which will review the amended version after resuming in mid-September.

Summary of Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act

This bill establishes grants and requires other activities to improve mental and behavioral health among health care providers.

  • Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must award grants to hospitals, medical professional associations, and other health care entities for programs to promote mental health and resiliency among health care providers. In addition, HHS may award grants for relevant mental and behavioral health training for health care students, residents, or professionals.
  • Additionally, HHS must conduct a campaign to encourage health care providers to seek support and treatment for mental and behavioral health concerns and disseminate best practices to prevent suicide and improve mental health and resiliency among health care providers.
  • HHS must also study and develop policy recommendations on
    • improving mental and behavioral health among health care providers,
    • removing barriers to accessing care and treatment, and
    • identifying strategies to promote resiliency.

 

For more about Dr. Breen’s life, see https://drlornabreen.org/about-lorna/.

 

 

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