Kiggans, Wild Introduce Bill to Reauthorize Historic Mental Healthcare Legislation for Doctors, Nurses

Jan 31, 2024
Healthcare
Press

WASHINGTON, DC: Today, Congresswoman Jen Kiggans (VA-02) joined Congresswoman Susan Wild (PA-07) to introduce the Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Reauthorization Act to equip the dedicated professionals who make up our nation’s healthcare system with the support and resources they need to protect their mental health. With this bipartisan legislation, Congresswoman Kiggans, a nurse practitioner, aims to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, and mental and behavioral health conditions among healthcare workers.

Joining Congresswoman Kiggans and Wild on this critical effort are Representatives Buddy Carter (GA-01) and Debbie Dingell (MI-06). Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) have introduced the companion legislation in the Senate.

“I’m proud to be leading the bipartisan effort to eliminate stigmas surrounding mental health and provide the support that our incredible nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals in our communities deserve,” said Congresswoman Kiggans, Vice Chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Nursing Caucus. “With shortages throughout our healthcare system, it is more important than ever to provide our medical professionals with the support and training needed to properly care for themselves and their patients.”

“Dr. Lorna Breen was a hero, one of many health care providers who put their lives on the line to keep us safe during the pandemic. And she was one of countless health care heroes who face mental health crises and a suicide rate twice that of the general public, largely due to the demanding, all-consuming nature of their work,” said Congresswoman Wild. “I was proud to introduce the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act last Congress and see it become law. Now, we must reauthorize this critical lawto continuecarrying on Dr. Breen’s legacy and investing in support for health workers’ mental health needs.”

“Our health care providers are some of the best among us, but too often, their mental health needs are not given adequate resources and support. This must change. By reauthorizing the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, we will prioritize health care providers’ well-being by ensuring their access to evidence-based mental health and substance use disorder strategies and education,” said Rep. Buddy Carter.

“Healthcare professionals dedicate their lives to serving their patients, often at the expense of their own physical and emotional wellbeing,” said Congresswoman Dingell. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation that will provide much-needed resources to address the mental and behavioral health conditions doctors and nurses face and continue reducing the stigma surrounding mental health care.”

“Our health care providers make countless sacrifices to care for us, and we owe it to them to provide them with the mental health care and resources they need,” said Senator Kaine. “This bill will build on the progress the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act made and ensure we are continuing to do what we can to prevent burnout, protect the well-being of our health care workforce, address shortages in the field, and help Virginians get high-quality care.”

“As we’ve seen so often over the past several years, our frontline workers put their own health on the line every day to serve our communities in Indiana and across the country,” said Senator Young. “Congress must act to reauthorize this important program to provide our health care workforce with needed support to prevent suicide and promote mental and behavioral health.”

“Our community needs healthcare providers to care for us and our loved ones. In doing this necessary work, our healthcare teams are facing a mental health and burnout crisis, leading many to leave the field of medicine. This hurts every community! The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is a key piece to changing the landscape of mental health and well-being for our healthcare professionals. The Medical Society of Virginia and SafeHaven support this Act and will continue to advocate for change alongside the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation,” said Melina Davis, CEO, Medical Society of Virginia.

“UVA Health is grateful for Senator Kaine and Congresswoman Kiggans’ continued commitment to raise awareness of the mental health needs of our healthcare and frontline workers caring for patients and the need to engage openly in this conversation. We can provide the best care for our patients with a resilient and compassionate healthcare workforce and a healthcare environment that is responsive, caring and supportive,” said K. Craig Kent, M.D., Chief Executive Officer, UVA Health and Executive Vice President, Health Affairs

“The Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Provider Protection Act addresses one of Inova’s most important priorities – the health and well-being of our 24,000 team members and all healthcare providers in Virginia. Ensuring every healthcare provider can practice in a psychologically safe environment where they feel supported in times of stress, burnout, and crisis is both a moral imperative and a health workforce necessity. This reauthorization will ensure that Dr. Breen’s memory will endure in the many lives that are saved in years to come, and we are grateful for Senator Kaine and Congresswoman Kiggans for their leadership,” said J. Stephen Jones, MD, President and CEO, Inova Health System.

“The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act in 2022 was a great first step in addressing physician burnout, and reauthorizing this important legislation is an AMA priority,” said American Medical Association President Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, M.D., MPH. “Physician burnout is an epidemic exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which made the original legislation so timely. We commend Reps. Wild, Kiggans, Dingell, and Carter for honoring Dr. Breen’s legacy by introducing this legislation that will put continued emphasis on the mental health needs of physicians.”

“ANA was pleased when President Biden signed the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act into law. We know millions of health care professionals are burned out, under extraordinary stress, and some are at high risk of suicide. We cannot let the momentum stop on increasing their access to the tools and resources they may need to improve their mental health,” said ANA President Jennifer Mensik Kennedy, PhD, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN. “ANA is thrilled that the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Reauthorization Act is being introduced in the Senate and is encouraged to see how committed policymakers and health care leaders are in prioritizing the mental health of our nursing and health care workforce.”

“Johnson & Johnson is incredibly grateful to stand with the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation and an expansive advocacy community to secure a better future for the US health workforce,” says Jane Adams, Vice President, US Federal Affairs, Johnson & Johnson. “We are proud to support Dr. Breen’s legacy through public policy efforts that will have immeasurable impact on the systemic change underway to improve well-being for all those on the front lines of care.”

The Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Reauthorization Act is also endorsed by the following groups:

  • Emergency Nurses Association
  • American Association of Colleges of Nursing 
  • Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation
  • American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
  • Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association
  • Virginia Community Healthcare Association
  • Community Health Center of the New River Valley
  • GPW Health Center 
  • Lifepoint Health
  • Shenandoah Community Health
  • Horizon Health Services
  • George Mason University

BACKGROUND

Dr. Lorna Breen served at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan and became the director of the emergency room at the Allen Hospital in 2008. Dr. Breen died by suicide on April 26, 2020, following a dark period during which she treated confirmed COVID patients, contracted COVID herself, and returned to an overwhelming number of incredibly sick patients. 

Signed into law on March 18, 2022, Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act was the first of its kind to allocate specific funds towards grants for training healthcare students, residents, and professionals in evidence-informed strategies to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders. However, this historical legislation is set to expire on September 30, 2024. The bill introduced today by Congresswomen Kiggans and Wild would reauthorize the critical resources originally provided in the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act through September 30, 2029.

The overall suicide rate in the United States has increased by 35% since 1999 and is now at its highest rate since World War II. Healthcare workers in particular have become increasingly distressed, dissatisfied, and burned out over the past few decades, leading to disproportionate suicide rates. Even before the pandemic, studies showed that female healthcare workers, especially nurses, were roughly two to three times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. Unfortunately, healthcare professionals often forgo mental health treatment due to the significant stigma surrounding it, as well as due to the fear of professional repercussions.

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

  • Reauthorize a grant program for health care organizations and professional associations for employee education on strategies to reduce burnout, peer-support programming, and mental and behavioral health treatment for five years. Communities with a shortage of health care workers, rural communities, and those experiencing burnout due to administrative burdens like lengthy paperwork will be prioritized.
  • Reauthorize a grant program for health profession schools or other institutions to train health care workers and students in strategies to prevent suicide, burnout, mental health conditions, and substance use disorders for five years.
  • Reauthorize a national evidence-based education and awareness campaign. Currently, the campaign provides hospital and health system leaders with evidence-informed solutions to reduce health care worker burnout. Reauthorization will provide resources for the campaign to continue and expand beyond its current scope.

In September, Congresswoman Kiggans penned an op-ed in The Hill about the need to pass the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Reauthorization Act. You can read that op-ed by clicking here.

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