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Kaine's Dr. Breen Act for Mental Health In Healthcare Moves Forward

Emergency room
FILE PHOTO: The proposal is named after Dr. Lorna Breen, a Virginia native who was an emergency room director in New York City. It aims to provide mental health services and support to health care workers. (Crixell Matthews / VPM News).

The  Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, aimed at providing mental health services and support to health care workers, was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday. 

The bill, which was  reintroduced by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) earlier this year, would send out tens of millions of dollars to public and private health institutions to be spent on a range of mental health education and programs. He says the money is needed to protect everyday heroes. 

“Sometimes even calling them heroes can be a challenge, because we put them on a pedestal and may not realize the vulnerabilities and challenges they deal with,” Kaine said. 

The proposal is named after Dr. Lorna Breen, a Virginia native who was an  emergency room director in New York City. She died by suicide early in the pandemic. Family members say Breen suffered acute mental stress as a result of working through the city’s intense viral surge, something she was not able to recover from. 

Some funding for mental health care targeting COVID-19 hotspots has already been approved in the American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year, but Kaine says the language in the Breen Act clears up where the cash should go. 

Among the allocations are $40 million for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awareness campaign designed to encourage providers to seek care and share information on the symptoms of stress, burnout and other mental health issues.  

The bill authorizes “such sums as necessary” for grants to health care and education centers for student, resident and professional training programs; it also provides $50 million over the next two years in grants to providers for similar initiatives.  

The money for much of those programs would be targeted in areas recovering from or experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks. 

The Breen Act also calls for a nationwide study on mental health and burnout among health care workers. Stakeholders would work with the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to better understand factors contributing to burnout, barriers to seeking or getting care, and implications of burnout on the healthcare system, among other things. 

Kaine says understanding that implication is important. The pandemic exhausted providers – but they were already tired. He pointed to Dr. Breen’s last published work. 

“It was about physician burnout, and it was published about two months before COVID started to ravage New York City, this country and the world,” Kaine said. 

The Breen Act was one of six pieces of bipartisan legislation approved by the committee today. Also given the go-ahead for consideration by the full Senate were three bills aimed to improve pregnancy outcomes in the U.S., particularly among women of color. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak to a certified listener. Veterans and service members can press 1. To connect to someone by text, send HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential. 

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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