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Pushing Congress to extend law to reduce burnout, suicide among healthcare workers

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Healthcare groups are backing bills to reauthorize the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act. J. Corey Feist testified at a House hearing.

Two years ago, Congress approved legislation aimed at reducing burnout and suicide among America’s healthcare workers.

Image: Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation

J. Corey Feist, CEO of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation, testified in Washington to support the reauthorization of a law to protect the mental health of healthcare workers.

The bill was inspired by Dr. Lorna Breen, an emergency physician who died by suicide early in the COVID-19 pandemic. President Biden signed the legislation in March 2022, and the measure has provided $100 million to support the mental health of healthcare workers.

Now, lawmakers are working to reauthorize the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act. Lawmakers have introduced measures that would extend the law for another five years.

J. Corey Feist, founder and CEO of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation, testified at a House subcommittee hearing Wednesday morning to urge lawmakers to reauthorize the law. Feist is the former CEO of the University of Virginia Physicians Group, and his wife, Jennifer, is the foundation’s co-founder, chair of the board and Dr. Breen’s sister.

“While there has been major progress made since I last sat in this seat, unfortunately, millions of health workers are still tirelessly working to save lives, often at great personal risk, yet cannot access mental health support and improve their professional well-being because of how our healthcare system operates,” Feist testified at the hearing.

The foundation spurred Congress to craft the law, and Biden to sign it. In his testimony Wednesday, Feist outlined an important distinction between depression and burnout.

“Depression is a medical illness that has many contributors, including biology, one's social structure and the environment in which we live and work,” Feist said in his testimony. “Burnout is an occupational syndrome related to the external environment in which people work.”

Feist’s testimony included heartbreaking messages in support of the legislation, outlining the troubles and torment of many healthcare workers.

One individual wrote that her husband died by suicide, fearing he couldn’t get help without losing his job as an orthopedic surgeon, Feist said. A nurse wrote about the immense value of counseling, saying it has saved her life, and her marriage, and noting that her employer pays for assistance.

Republicans and Democrats have sponsored identical reauthorization bills in the House and Senate.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., have sponsored the Senate bill. U.S. Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., has sponsored the House measure, with three co-sponsors, U.S. Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-Va., Buddy Carter, R-Ga., and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.

“We must reauthorize this critical law to continue carrying on Dr. Breen’s legacy and investing in support for health workers’ mental health needs,” Wild said in a statement.

Healthcare advocacy groups are supporting the reauthorization of the legislation. The American Nurses Association is urging lawmakers to support it. Many nurses in hospitals have said they are experiencing burnout and severe stress. Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, president of the nurses association, notes that too many nurses are dying by suicide in her endorsement of the legislation.

“Being a nurse demands selflessness, in some cases to the extreme. Rarely do they put themselves first, and devastatingly, that has led to the loss of so many nurses by suicide,” Mensik Kennedy said in a statement.

The American Hospital Association is backing the legislation.

“Reauthorizing the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is critical in providing our caregivers the support they deserve. Doing so will also help ensure patients and communities continue to have access to high-quality, compassionate, and accessible care,” Stacey Huges, AHA executive vice president, said in a statement.

Many doctors say they’re reluctant to get help for mental health issues, because they are worried their employers or state licensing boards will find out. It’s a similar concern for nurses, with many also saying they’re simply too busy to get help.

The Lorna Breen foundation has been pushing state licensing boards - and hospitals and health systems - to drop invasive questions about physicians’ mental health. The foundation also says it’s time to stop asking those questions of nurses as well.

Getting help

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Dial or text 988 to connect with someone. Help is available 24/7.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers resources for healthcare professionals.

NAMI: The National Alliance for Mental Illness offers “frontline wellness” resources for healthcare workers and public safety employees.


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