Late New York doctor inspires new legislation to help struggling healthcare providers

Legislation hopes to reduce burnout

Dr. Lorna Breen was an emergency medicine physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan.

Her brother-in-law and the President of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation Corey Feist said Breen was passionate about patient care and always put her patients first.

In 2020, Dr. Breen contracted COVID-19. She took a short time off work to recover from the virus but returned to an overwhelming number of sick patients.

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“What she described to us was Armageddon,” Feist said. “Too many patients dying in waiting rooms, not enough oxygen or supplies to take care of them, not enough beds to transfer them to.”

Feist said Dr. Breen often worked up to 18-hour shifts, without taking breaks.

Her family scheduled her first and only mental health treatment that year. They said she was afraid to get help, worried it would end the career she spent years molding.

On April 26, 2020, Breen died by suicide.

It was two and a half months after her death that Dr. Breen’s family created the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation.

“My wife Jennifer and I have heard from healthcare workers across the country and across the globe about how hard it is to be a healthcare worker and how the concerns about their own well-being are never top of mind,” Feist said.

Feist and foundation members pushed for legislation that would help medical professionals.

“Reduce burnout, improve their well-being, improve their ability to get care,” Feist said.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Provider Act passed through congress and is now headed to President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

Here’s what the bill aims to accomplish:

“This bill establishes grants and requires other activities to improve mental and behavioral health among health care providers.

Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must 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.

Additionally, HHS must 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 health care providers,
  • Removing barriers to accessing care and treatment, and
  • Identifying strategies to promote resiliency.

Furthermore, the Government Accountability Office must 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.”

President Biden addressed mental health in the State of the Union Address Tuesday night.

“Let’s get all Americans the mental health services they need. More people they can turn to for help, and full parity between physical and mental health care,” President Biden said.

Gerard Brogan, Director of Nursing Practice for National Nurses United, said he welcomes this attention to the mental health of healthcare professionals. He said the pandemic amplified pre-existing stress for healthcare workers.

“I know suicide rates in doctors and nurses have been both been higher than the general population prior to the pandemic,” Brogan said.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation reports physicians and nurses to die by suicide is two times the rate of the general population.

Adding, burnout has been shown to cause a 200% increased risk of medical errors.

“You cannot do your best work taking care of patients unless you engage in self-care,” Feist said.

Feist said he is excited to see that healthcare workers’ needs are being recognized. He told News 6 reporter Treasure Roberts that President Biden’s administration funded the programs listed in the bill in the American Rescue Plan last year and because of that, the programs are already making an incredible impact.

About the Author:

Treasure joined News 6 at the start of 2021, coming to the Sunshine State from Michigan.