Sens. Cassidy, Kaine, Young, and Reed introduce legislation to support health care workers mental health amid COVID-19

Coronavirus

Medical staff members arrive for a duty shift at Dongsan Hospital in Daegu, South Korea, Friday, March 27, 2020. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.(Lee Yong-hwan/Newsis via AP)

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Todd Young (R-IN), and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, legislation that aims to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, and mental and behavioral health conditions among health care professionals.

Health care professionals have long experienced high levels of stress and burnout, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem. While helping their patients fight for their lives, many health care professionals are coping with their own trauma of losing patients and colleagues and fear for their own health and safety. The issue captured national attention when Dr. Lorna Breen, a physician from Charlottesville, Virginia working on the frontlines of the pandemic in New York, died by suicide. This bill helps promote mental and behavioral health among those working on the frontlines of the pandemic. It also supports suicide and burnout prevention training in health professional training programs and increases awareness and education about suicide and mental health concerns among health care professionals.

“Doctors, nurses and health care workers shoulder the responsibility of saving lives. The COVID-19 pandemic adds to that stress and increases their own risk of becoming infected. This bill is an important lifeline for medical professionals so that they, too, can get the help they need even as they care for others,” said Dr. Cassidy.

The pandemic is taking an enormous toll on the mental health of health care professionals who, on top of their own anxieties, are supporting many Americans in their time of need. Additionally, the stigma surrounding treatment for mental health conditions and substance use disorders can discourage health care professionals from seeking help.

Specifically, the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act:

  • Establishes grants for training health profession students, residents, or health care professionals in evidence-informed strategies to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders. The grants would also help improve health care professionals’ well-being and job satisfaction.
  • Seeks to identify and disseminate evidence-informed best practices for reducing and preventing suicide and burnout among health care professionals, training health care professionals in appropriate strategies, and promoting their mental and behavioral health and job satisfaction.
  • Establishes a national evidence-based education and awareness campaign targeting health care professionals to encourage them to seek support and treatment for mental and behavioral health concerns.
  • Establishes grants for employee education, peer-support programming, and mental and behavioral health treatment; health care providers in current or former COVID-19 hotspots will be prioritized. 
  • Establishes a comprehensive study on health care professional mental and behavioral health and burnout, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on such professionals’ health.

“We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the health care professionals who put their lives on the line every day to treat patients – especially during this pandemic,” said Kaine. “No one can witness that much suffering firsthand without it affecting them, and we must help provide the necessary resources and support now. At the same time, we must also take steps to promote a culture of mental health among students, residents, and health care professionals so those who are struggling feel comfortable reaching out for the treatment and support they need. I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle can back this legislation to help the health care professionals who are helping us during this crisis and in the years to come.”

“Our frontline health care professionals face high levels of stress daily as they work to keep Hoosiers healthy, especially during this difficult time,” said Young. “The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act will help these critical workers get the support they need to prevent suicide and promote mental and behavioral health.”

“Our doctors, nurses, and frontline health workers are under considerable strain and stress as they work overtime to help combat COVID and save lives.  While they are looking out for patient health, we must look out for their well-being.  And that means ensuring they have the PPE they need, and also ensuring they have the mental and emotional health support and interventions they need,” said Reed.

“We’d like to thank Senators Kaine, Reed, Young, and Cassidy for advancing this important legislation at a time when our healthcare workforce is perhaps at its most fragile as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that physician and provider burnout was at an all-time high before the beginning of this pandemic and it is critical that we educate current and future caregivers about the importance of self-care. The danger of physician mental health stress is not a partisan issue- it is an issue that affects all of our loved ones as givers and receivers of healthcare. Dr. Lorna Breen was a dedicated physician who devoted her life to improving the lives of her patients and her colleagues. This legislation is a continuation of that work. We would also like to recognize and thank the physicians and healthcare providers at Columbia/New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York and our frontline workers and medical community throughout the country,” said Jennifer Breen Feist and Corey Feist, Co-Founders of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is supported by the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Osteopathic Association.

“ACEP is grateful for the introduction of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act. This bill helps carry on Dr. Breen’s legacy and will ensure emergency physicians and other health care providers get the mental health treatment they need as they continue to serve on the front lines of the most serious public health crisis of our lifetime,” said William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, President of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

“The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the nation’s largest non-profit dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide, proudly endorses the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act,” said AFSP Chief Executive Officer Robert Gebbia. “This vital piece of legislation will help prevent suicide and positively impact programs that increase resources for health care professionals who are working to save lives daily amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We thank Senators Reed, Kaine, Young, and Cassidy for their work to increase awareness and target resources to those at a higher risk of suicide at this time.”  

“Protecting and supporting the mental health of physicians, nurses, and other medical and hospital professionals is essential, especially as we weather the unprecedented public health crisis that COVID-19 presents,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.H. “Sens. Kaine, Young, Reed, and Cassidy’s bill offers tangible steps toward supporting the health care workforce as they continue to deal with the challenging, long-term mental health repercussions of treating patients during the crisis.” 

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