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Congress passes bill to battle burnout and prevent physician suicide


Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act aims to help physicians receive mental health assistance without jeopardizing their licenses.

Dr. Lorna Breen had been treating coronavirus patients in a New York City emergency department in 2020 when the pandemic began and the hospital was flooded with patients and deaths surged. Breen caught Covid and returned to work with little break. Her family encouraged her to come home to recover and seek mental health treatment.

She had recently co-authored a paper on the increasing issue of burnout among emergency-department physicians. Breen never showed signs of burnout, but her family fears she kept it to herself and avoided seeking mental health help for fear of losing her medical license.

Breen had no history of mental illness, but died by suicide shortly after returning home.

As a result, her family has been advocating for the strengthening of federal resources to fight physician burnout, prevent physician suicides — which are much higher than the general population — and raise awareness of mental health challenges among health care workers. Last week, the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provide Protection Act passed Congress.

The bill provides for a national awareness campaign, federal grants to health care workers to develop treatment and peer support programs and funds to train employees about strategies for coping with mental health issues. The bill also aims to prevent substance abuse and suicide among physicians.

“The legislation passed today will establish a public awareness campaign to encourage physicians to care for their mental health and authorize grants to establish evidence-based programs dedicated to improving mental health and resiliency for health care professionals,” said Gerald E. Harmon, MD, president of the American Medical Association. “These issues have always been present in medicine, and the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed them to the forefront. The AMA is grateful the Breen family advocated for this legislation, and that Congress listened. It is a fitting legacy for Dr. Breen.”

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