Legislation to help healthcare workers would honor doctor who took her own life during the pandemic

PORTSMOUTH, Va (WAVY) — Healthcare workers have been hit hard by the pandemic with increased burnout and suicide rates.

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) reintroduced a bill to help: the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act.

Breen is one of the hundreds of doctors who died by suicide last year.

Breen grew up in Charlottesville with a dream of becoming a doctor in New York City. She was living that dream as head of the emergency department in a Manhattan hospital when the pandemic hit. While working around the clock, she caught COVID-19 herself.

Her sister, Jennifer Breen Feist, told WAVY, “She just had it in her blood to get back in there and to not complain and to not ask for help — and that was her undoing.”

Breen, who Feist said had no history of depression or anxiety, experienced what her sister calls a “catastrophic mental health injury.”

“She kept saying, ‘I’m going to lose my license and I’m going to lose my job and everybody there knew I couldn’t hang.’”

Breen died by suicide last year after contracting the virus.

The burnout she felt is being experienced by healthcare workers across the country.

Emily Boucher is an ICU nurse in Abingdon, Virginia. She told WAVY the loss has been devastating.

“We’ve experienced suffering and death and loss over and over and over and it, at times, seemed like it wouldn’t end.”

The COVID-19 relief bill being debated this week includes $140 million for training to reduce suicide and burnout as well as a CDC awareness campaign and programs to promote mental wellness in healthcare.

Still, Kaine is pressing on with his bill.

“I want to pass this bill that’s named after Lorna,” he said in a news conference Thursday.

Kaine”s bill includes some things the COVID-19 bill does not.

“Eliminate any kind of licensing or credentialing or professional regulation that might get in the way of people seeking the help they need,” Kaine said.

A nationwide study could help clear the way for healthcare workers to seek help without fear losing their jobs or reputations.

According to the Dr. Lorna Breen Hero’s Foundation, many states currently require doctors to disclose any kind of mental health treatment they’ve received to be licensed. Leading many to suffer in silence.

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