The Lorna Breen Act is on Biden’s desk. Here’s how it could help healthcare workers.

The legislation would provide grants to address mental health and burnout in the healthcare profession. The bill was named for a doctor who died by suicide early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The only step needed to make the Lorna Breen Act a federal law is President Joe Biden’s signature.

Congress has passed the bill, which would provide $140 million in grants and other measures to address mental health and burnout in the healthcare profession. The bill is named in honor of an emergency department doctor who died by suicide early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Senate gave its final approval Feb. 17. The House of Representatives approved the legislation in December 2021. The Senate initially passed the bill in August, but there were technical measures needed to resolve differences between the two chambers.

A host of healthcare advocacy groups, including the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, supported the bill.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, sponsored the measure in 2020, but it stalled in that congressional session.

“Our health care workers have long suffered significant burnout, and it’s been exacerbated by serving on the front lines combatting COVID-19," Kaine said in a statement. "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 bill offers several components to address mental health in the healthcare profession, a growing concern of hospital leaders.

  • The bill would provide grants for academic health centers, health professions schools and other institutions to prevent burnout, substance abuse, mental health conditions, and suicide.
  • It would also provide grants to healthcare providers and professional associations for mental health treatment and peer support programs. Those in COVID-19 hotspots or former hotspots will get preference for these grants.
  • The bill would aim to identify evidence-based best practices to improve mental and behavioral health and prevent burnout.
  • It will kick off a national education campaign to encourage healthcare professionals to get help with mental and behavioral health issues.
  • The bill would also initiate a study on burnout and mental health in the healthcare profession, along with the impact of COVID-19.

Jennifer Breen Feist, Lorna Breen’s sister, welcomed the passage of the billl. Feist and Corey Feist co-founded the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation and pushed for the legislation.

“After my sister Lorna died in April 2020, we received an outpouring of support for our family as well as a wave of concern from healthcare professionals across the country and around the world,” Breen Feist said in a video after the Senate approved the bill. “These people expressed concerns about their own well-being and that of their colleagues.”

An emergency department physician, Lorna Breen died by suicide on April 26, 2020. She became physically and mentally exhausted caring for the first wave of COVID-19 patients in New York City. She contracted the virus, recovered and returned to work, but she became overwhelmed during long days of treating COVID-19 patients. She had no known prior mental health issues, the foundation said.

U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., co-sponsored the bill and said it’s critical to look out for healthcare workers.

“This legislation will help frontline workers get the support they need to prevent suicide and improve mental and behavioral health,” Young said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, a Pennsylvania Democrat, was the lead sponsor of the bill in the House and said on Twitter, “The loss of Dr. Lorna Breen touched many people's lives, including mine.”

“This is a huge win for the medical community, and I can't wait to see it soon become law,” she said.

Many nurses have said their mental health has taken a toll in the pandemic, but few of them are seeking counseling, according to a report released earlier this month. Some nurses have said they’re afraid they could hurt their careers if they are seen seeking treatment for mental health.

“When nurses admit they need help, there is a stigma they worry will be used against them that could jeopardize their ability to practice,” Rebecca Love, chief clinical officer at IntelyCare, told Chief Healthcare Executive earlier this month.

The Biden administration has already distributed more than $100 million to address mental health in the healthcare industry. It was part of the American Rescue Plan.

After the Senate approved the legislation, Breen Feist said the bill does more than honor her sister.

“This bill may be in my sister’s name, but truly it is for everyone else who shares her passion as a caregiver,” she said.

If you're struggling or someone you know is struggling, help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Call 800-273-TALK (8255). The hotline is available around the clock.