March 04, 2021

Kaine Leads Colleagues in Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Support Health Care Workers’ Mental Health amid COVID-19

Bill named in honor of Dr. Lorna Breen, who died by suicide while serving on frontlines of the pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee and Congresswoman Susan Wild (D-PA-07) announced the reintroduction of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, and mental and behavioral health conditions among health care professionals. Health care professionals have long experienced high levels of stress and burnout, and throughout the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has only further exacerbated the problem. While helping their patients fight for their lives, many health care professionals have been coping with their own trauma of losing patients and colleagues and fear for their own health and safety. The issue captured national attention in April 2020 when Dr. Lorna Breen, a physician from Charlottesville, Virginia, working on the frontlines of the pandemic in New York, died by suicide. This bill will help promote mental and behavioral health among those working on the frontlines of the pandemic. It also supports training for health professionals to prevent suicide and burnout and increases awareness about suicide and mental health concerns among health care professionals. Kaine and Wild are joined in reintroducing the legislation by U.S. Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), as well as U.S. Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL-08), Judy Chu (D-CA-27), and David McKinley (R-WV-01). The Senators are pushing for inclusion of the legislation in the latest COVID-19 relief package making its way through Congress. While the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act was formally introduced today on the Senate side, the legislation will formally be introduced on the House side next week.  

“In my conversations with frontline health care workers over the past year, I’ve seen that this crisis is going to have a significant impact on the lives of health care professionals for a very long time,” Kaine said. “As more people get vaccinated and we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the healers who’ve been caring for everyone else will continue to feel the effects of this trauma, yet face stigma in accessing treatment. It’s so important for Congress to pass this bipartisan legislation so we can meaningfully change how our health care industry approaches mental health and set up a more reliable infrastructure and culture for health care professionals to count on in the years to come.” 

“America owes an incredible debt of gratitude to the health care professionals who have worked tirelessly for the last year to keep us safe. The trauma of their experience, and their proximity to this national tragedy, is something we must address head on,” said Wild. “Dr. Lorna Breen was a hero who embodied the spirit of service in our time of national crisis, and I’m honored to lead this bill in her memory and put forth this legislation to prevent burnout among the health professionals answering the call of duty.”   

“Over the past year, our frontline workers bore the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic – putting their lives on the line every day so that our communities can stay safe and secure. As we continue to navigate this global health crisis, it is critical that we look out for Hoosier health care professionals and other frontline workers,” said Young. "The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act will help these workers get the support they need to prevent suicide and promote mental and behavioral health.” 

“Our doctors, nurses, and frontline health workers are under considerable strain and stress as they continue working overtime to help combat COVID-19 and save lives.  While they are looking out for patient health, we must look out for their well-being. And that means ensuring they have the resources they need, and also ensuring they have strong mental and emotional health support and interventions in place,” said Reed.

“Doctors, nurses and health care workers shoulder the responsibility of saving lives. Working overtime during the pandemic with a heightened risk of becoming infected only adds to that stress,” said Dr. Cassidy. “This bill is an important lifeline for medical professionals so that they, too, can get the care they need even as they care for others.”  

“As the husband of a frontline physician, I know the burden the pandemic has put on health care workers who have risked their lives on a daily basis to save others,” said Krishnamoorthi. “Our landmark legislation will help health care workers, including those on the front lines of COVID-19, access the resources they need to support their mental health and combat burnout during the pandemic and throughout all stages of their career.”  

“Physicians and other health professionals dedicate their careers to keeping people healthy, but burnout amongst healthcare workers was already at an all-time high even before this pandemic which, has taxed health care workers like never before.” Chu said. “Front-line health care workers have been steadfast combatting COVID-19, but, all too often, they are under constant stress and do not receive adequate support and resources to address their own well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. It is critical that we foster a culture of mental health well-being and educate our caregivers about the importance of self-care. Supporting the mental health of physicians, nurses, and other medical and hospital professionals is essential. That is why I am so proud to be one of the co-leads of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act to improve our nation’s mental health infrastructure and support physicians and other health professionals who have worked tirelessly to keep our nation healthy. I am thrilled to join Reps. Wild, Krishnamoorthi, and McKinley, who have proven records supporting healthcare providers, and introduce this much-needed bi-partisan legislation.” 

“Frontline responders are critical to America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said McKinley. “By removing barriers and proving better access to vital mental health services, we are prioritizing the health and well-being of our frontline workers as they continue to combat COVID.”  

"Our health care heroes have long experienced high levels of stress and burnout, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the problem. Not until the death of my beloved sister, did we learn of the pervasiveness of mental health issues among medical professionals," said Jennifer Breen Feist, co-founder of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation. "The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act legislation is a critical step in building the policy framework to address mental health concerns facing our healthcare providers during this challenging time. We are encouraged by the bipartisan support this legislation has garnered and hopeful that this important issue is at last generating the attention it deserves.”  

Specifically, the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act:

  • Establishes grants for training health profession students, residents, or health care professionals in evidence-informed strategies to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders. The grants would also help improve health care professionals’ well-being and job satisfaction.
  • Seeks to identify and disseminate evidence-informed best practices for reducing and preventing suicide and burnout among health care professionals, training health care professionals in appropriate strategies, and promoting their mental and behavioral health and job satisfaction.
  • Establishes a national evidence-based education and awareness campaign targeting health care professionals to encourage them to seek support and treatment for mental and behavioral health concerns.
  • Establishes grants for employee education, peer-support programming, and mental and behavioral health treatment; health care providers in current or former COVID-19 hotspots will be prioritized.
  • Establishes a comprehensive study on health care professional mental and behavioral health and burnout, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on such professionals’ health.

Since first introducing the bill in July 2020, Senator Kaine has been a leader in addressing the mental health impact of the pandemic on health care workers and has continued to urge Congress to prioritize this issue. In December, Kaine hosted a virtual roundtable with health care workers from across Virginia to hear more about the toll their experiences on the frontlines of the pandemic has had on their mental health.

The legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Angus King (I-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jon Tester (D-MT), as well as U.S. Representatives Haley Stevens (D-MI-11), Fred Upton (R-MI-06), Morgan Griffith (R-VA-09) and John Katko (R-NY-24). 

The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is supported by the American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM), American Academy Of Emergency Medicine Resident and Student Association (AAEM/RSA), American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of PAs, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), American College of Physicians (ACP), American Counseling Association, American Dance Therapy Association, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Hospital Association (AHA), American Medical Association, American Medical Student Association, American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), American Osteopathic Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Society of Anesthesiologists, Associated Medical Schools of New York (AMSNY), Association for Ambulatory Behavioral Healthcare, Association for Behavioral Health and Wellness, Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Ballad Health, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), Columbia University Irving Medical Center, EMDR International Association, Emergency Nurses Association (ENA), Envision Healthcare, Federation of State Medical Boards, Federation of State Physician Health Programs (FSPHP), Mental Health America, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, National Board Certified Counselors, National Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), Postpartum Support International, RI International, SMART Recovery, The International OCD Foundation, The Jed Foundation, UVA Health, and the Well Being Trust.

You can view the full text of the bill here.

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