WASHINGTON, D.C.—The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) strongly supports S. 4349, the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, introduced today by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Todd Young (R-IN), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA). This bill, named for the emergency physician tragically lost to suicide in April 2020, would take major steps to reduce and prevent suicide and burnout and alleviate other mental health concerns that have only been exacerbated by COVID-19.
“Dr. Breen was one of our own—an ACEP member and an exemplar emergency physician—and her loss is felt deeply among all of us in emergency medicine,” said William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, president of ACEP. “Nobody should be forced to choose between their mental health and their career.”
Emergency medicine can be a turbulent and overwhelming field for the physicians, nurses and other health care providers who are faced with life and death consequences each day. Emergency physicians have historically had higher rates of career burnout and post-traumatic stress disorder than other medical specialties. Despite the prevalence of depression, feelings of burn out, and other mental health issues, there is a legitimate fear of consequences that deters physicians from seeking the care they need.
“Many emergency physicians and care teams have suffered in silence for too long,” said Dr. Jaquis. “Healing from this experience will be nearly impossible unless we eliminate the barriers to mental health treatment for physicians.”
In addition to creating behavioral health and well-being training programs and a national campaign to encourage health care professionals to seek support and treatment, the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act would initiate a federal study into health care professional mental health and burnout, with a focus on the impact of the pandemic. The bill would also provide grants to establish and expand mental health support services to those providing care to COVID-19 patients.
ACEP is grateful that a growing number of bipartisan leaders in the House and Senate are prioritizing efforts to designate critical mental health resources for emergency physicians and other health care providers. In addition to the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) sponsored the bipartisan Coronavirus Health Care Worker Wellness Act of 2020, and Representative Mike Burgess (R-TX) successfully included an amendment to the HERO Act of 2019 that would establish a grant program to provide behavioral health and wellness programs for health care providers.
Physician mental health is a major priority for ACEP, which has been working with the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation to champion the issue at the federal level. In June 2020, ACEP along with more than 40 leading medical associations, academics and psychiatry experts set forth recommendations to remove existing barriers to seeking treatment—including the fear of reprisal—while encouraging professional and peer support.