CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - On Thursday, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) hosted a virtual panel, announcing the reintroduction of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act.
The act was named after Dr. Lorna Breen, a physician from Charlottesville, who took her own life after fighting the pandemic head-on in New York last year.
Jennifer Feist, Breen’s sister, said it was if she and other healthcare workers were fighting a war on the front lines. After getting COVID-19 herself, then returning back to work to help her patients, Feist said her sister was not the same.
“It was just too much, too quickly and she just couldn’t survive it,” Feist said.
Many doctors and nurses, like Breen, have to fight not only a deadly virus. They also must battle overwhelming stress, burnout, and the mental and emotional trauma they’ve endured in their job.
Emily Boucher, a registered nurse at Johnson Memorial Hospital, said she’s witnessed it first-hand. “We’ve experienced suffering and death and loss, over and over and over again, and at times it seemed like it wouldn’t end,” she said.
Dr. Taison Bell, a physician at the University of Virginia, said the virus’s toll on already marginalized communities is hard to face.
“For healthcare professionals of color in particular, this burden can be even heavier as we see patients who look like us disproportionately impacted due to health inequities and structural racism while we, our families, may be suffering from those ill effects as well,” Bell said.
Now, Senator Kaine is pushing for Congress to adopt the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, saying it will protect the health of those just like her.
“It’s a beginning to try to knock down any stigmas on healthcare professionals seeking healthcare assistance, but also providing resources so they can,” Kaine said.
Corey Feist, Breen’s brother-in-law, said the legislation is a starting point to aid healthcare workers who may be afraid to speak up about their mental health, ultimately preventing an additional layer of stress from being added to those who need help the most.
“The Lorna Breen Act will help bring those suffering in silence out of the shadows to get help now and it will make a meaningful, long-term impact on the industry as well,” Feist said.
The bill promotes suicide and burnout reduction and prevention trainings for healthcare professionals. It also supports funding for mental and behavioral health treatment programs to help them now and in the future.
“People have suffered so much death, illness, job loss, there will be mental health components that. The day the president declares the national emergency is over, the mental challenge will still not be over,” Kaine said.
Kaine said the act has received bipartisan support since it was first introduced last year. He’s pushing for it to be included in the next COVID-19 relief package.