Lorna Breen Act, mental health bill aimed at helping health care providers, closer to law

Virginia

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act passed unanimously through a Senate committee Tuesday, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) expects it to become law. It’s designed to provide mental health services for medical professionals, and remove the stigma surrounding their seeking help.

The legislation honors Breen’s memory. A Charlottesville native and University of Virginia graduate, she was an emergency room doctor last year in New York City when the pressure and constant death connected to COVID-19 led to her death by suicide.

“We got a head start on this bill because we got about $140 million in the American Rescue Plan to start to provide some of the services,” Kaine said in a conference call with media Wednesday morning. The measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), would determine the best providers to deliver mental health services to fellow providers.

Kaine said it would determine best practices and find “who are the provider groups, hospitals and state medical associations that have innovative programs to provide mental health services.”

Medical professionals were already accustomed to 12-hour shifts, and then COVID-19 forced them to rethink how they eat, exercise, cope, even how they schedule their days. The Breen Act would help them find ways to limit stress in an already stressful career.

“How to reduce depression, reduce burnout, and reduce suicide for health professionals,” Kaine said.

Another key provision would ensure that states don’t force doctors and nurses to disclose whether they’ve received or are seeking mental health counseling.

“We need to de-stigmatize anyone seeking mental health assistance, especially our healers, and mental health assistance can be one of the ways that they do that,” Kaine said.

Kaine points out that the suicide rate among doctors was already twice the national average even before the pandemic, and COVID-19 has only made it worse.

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