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Bill named for doctor who died by suicide during pandemic clears Senate

Photo: Svitlana Hulko/iStockphoto

Washington — The Senate on Feb. 17 passed legislation intended to help prevent suicide, reduce burnout, and address mental and behavioral health conditions among health care professionals.

The bill – H.R. 1667 – is known as the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, in honor of the physician from Charlottesville, VA, who died by suicide in April 2020. Breen had been working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City.

Sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA), the bill would establish training grants to educate health care providers on mental health conditions, substance abuse and suicide prevention, along with behavioral health treatment and peer support programs. In addition, it would establish a national education and awareness campaign focused on encouraging health care workers to seek support and treatment when needed.

“Our health care workers have long suffered significant burnout, and it’s been exacerbated by serving on the front lines combating COVID-19,” Kaine said in a press release. “We owe these healers not only a debt of gratitude, but more robust support. This legislation will take steps to provide them with greater resources to cope with the mental health challenges they face.”

The American College of Emergency Physicians and the Emergency Nurses Association are among dozens of health care organizations that support the bill.


“This important legislation honors Dr. Breen’s legacy and charts a path forward that helps limit barriers currently preventing many emergency physicians from seeking the mental health care they need,” ACEP President Gillian Schmitz said in a press release.

In a separate release, ENA President Jennifer Schmitz adds that the bill will save lives and preserve the ability of nurses to provide the best care possible to patients.

“Our country’s mental health crisis has only worsened during the pandemic, and emergency nurses can certainly attest to the stress, fatigue and burnout they’ve experienced,” Schmitz said.

The bill, passed by the House on Dec. 8, now goes to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

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