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Congress acts to promote mental and behavioral health among healthcare workers

A good news day. The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act passed the United States Senate this week and is heading to President Biden for his signature. 

The tragic story of the death of Dr. Lorna Breen in 2020 has become the impetus for this legislation designed to promote mental and behavioral health among healthcare workers, particularly those who are working on the front lines of the pandemic.

Dr. Breen, who was an emergency physician at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in New York City, took her own life at the height of the pandemic after experiencing the mass death of the first wave of COVID-19 patients and then contracting the virus herself. The story received significant media attention, as Dr. Breen's family applied the lessons of her death to promote helping those who are helping others as frontline workers. Dr. Breen's sister Jennifer Breen Feist and her husband Corey Feist established a foundation whose mission became to reduce burnout in healthcare professionals and safeguard their mental health. The foundation became the vehicle to garner support for this legislation.

The legislation directs the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to 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.

HHS will conduct a campaign to (1) encourage health care providers to seek support and treatment for mental and behavioral health concerns, and (2) 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 healthcare providers,
  • removing barriers to accessing care and treatment, and
  • identifying strategies to promote resiliency.

To assure accountability, the Act directs the Government Accountability Office to report on the extent to which relevant federal grant programs address the prevalence and severity of mental health conditions and substance use disorders among health care providers.

On a personal level, I'm proud that Corey and his wife have been so instrumental in this effort. Corey had been for years the General Counsel to, and is now the CEO of, UVA Physicians Group at the University of Virginia.

Backed by more than 70 organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the American College of Emergency Physicians, the comprehensive legislation is the first of its kind to allocate specific funds towards 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.

Tags

health care & life sciences, mental health, healthcare providers, legislation

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