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The first-of-its-kind legislation would authorize $35 million for programs aimed at practitioner mental health education and campaigns to support seeking help.
The US Senate passed today in a unanimous vote the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act (S. 610). The bill was introduced in the Senate in March 2021 and created to reduce the stigma among health care professionals of seeking mental health assistance.
The bill is named for Dr. Lorna Breen, a New York City emergency room physician who died by suicide in late April 2020, after treating confirmed COVID-19 patients, contracting the virus herself, and returning to her demanding position during the early surge of COVID-19 cases, according to a statement from the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation.
“We are beyond thrilled to see Congress acknowledge and prioritize health care professionals’ mental health and well-being,” said Jennifer Breen Feist, co-founder of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation, in the statement. “This legislation demonstrates a momentous shift in how our nation is beginning to view mental and behavioral health as a holistic part of health care.”
The legislation is backed by more than 70 organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the American College of Emergency Physicians, and is the first of its kind to allocate specific funds towards grants for "wellbeing" training for health care providers.
According to a news release from the Association of American Medical Colleges, the act would authorize $35 million for a Health Resources and Services Administration Title VII grant program aimed at training health professionals, students, and residents in evidence-informed strategies to address and prevent suicide, burnout, mental health issues, and substance use disorders. It would also authorize $10 million for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention campaign encouraging health professionals to seek treatment for mental and behavioral health concerns.
Both programs that would be authorized by the bill received $140 million in emergency funding as part of the American Rescue Plan.
The House has yet to schedule any action on the bill.
“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.”
“We encourage the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee to hold a hearing and urgently pass this legislation and provide the much-needed assistance our health care community needs and deserves,” concluded Feist.