On March 18, 2022, President Biden signed into law the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act (Act). The law is named after Dr. Lorna Breen, who served as medical director of New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital. Dr. Breen died by suicide in April 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the nation and, in particular, New York. Since Dr. Breen’s passing, his family established the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation (Heroes Foundation). The mission of the Heroes’ Foundation is to reduce burnout, protect the well-being of healthcare providers (HCPs), and reduce the stigma surrounding HCPs seeking help or treatment. The law is a crucial step in achieving this mission.
The law requires the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with stakeholders, such as health professional associations, to implement a mental health education and awareness initiative. This initiative should encourage health professionals to seek care and support when they experience mental health or addiction problems, help health professionals learn to identify risk factors for these conditions and teach them to respond to these risks. This initiative should also seek to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health and addictions issues. No later than two years after enactment, HHS must provide the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and the House Energy and Commerce Committee with an update. update on the impact and results of the initiative.
The law also adds article 764, Mental health promotion programs among health professionals, the Public Health Services Act. Under Section 764, HHS will award three-year grants and contracts to healthcare entities to establish or enhance evidence-based or evidence-informed programs dedicated to improving health resilience and resilience in the profession. Hospitals, community health centers, rural health clinics, and health professional associations, among other health care entities, are eligible to receive these grants and contracts. In awarding these grants and contracts, HHS must give priority to entities that are in areas of health professional shortages or in rural areas.
As mentioned, recipients can use the funds to implement a new program or enhance an existing mental health promotion program. This may include, under the Act:
Improve awareness among healthcare professionals of risk factors and signs of suicide, mental health or substance use disorders;
Establish or improve programs to prevent suicide and improve mental health and resilience among healthcare professionals;
Provide mental health care, follow-up or referrals to such services and care to health care professionals; Where
Create or improve peer support programs for healthcare professionals.
HHS may also establish a program to provide grants to schools of health professions, academic health centers, state or local governments, tribal organizations, or other appropriate public or private nonprofit entities, which support the training of healthcare students, residents or healthcare professionals in strategies to address mental and substance abuse disorders and improve mental health and resilience.
The law also provides criteria that HHS must meet in its reports to Congress. No later than two years after promulgation, HHS must identify and disseminate evidence-based or evidence-informed best practices to improve the mental health of healthcare professionals, prevent suicide, and build mental resilience. No later than three years after enactment, HHS must review programs authorized under the law and submit a report detailing:
The prevalence and severity of mental health problems among health professionals and the factors that contribute to these problems;
Barriers faced by healthcare professionals in seeking and accessing mental health care, which may include consideration of stigma, licensing issues, and actions taken by licensing boards state licensing, health professional schools, health professional training associations, hospital associations, or other organizations;
The impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of healthcare professionals and lessons learned for future public health emergencies;
Factors promoting mental health and resilience among health professionals; and
The effectiveness of health professional training programs that promote resilience and improve mental health.
Finally, no later than four years after enactment, the Comptroller General of the United States must submit a report to Congress detailing the extent to which federal grant programs for substance use disorders and mental health address prevalence and severity of mental health problems and substance use disorders among HCPs.
According to the Heroes Foundation, more than 400 physicians die by suicide each year, and physician suicide rates differ by specialty. Since March is Women’s History Month, Mintz feels it’s imperative to note that female physicians are dying by suicide at a higher rate than their male counterparts. It is the hope of the Heroes Foundation and Congress that the law will promote mental well-being in the health profession and honor the life of Dr. Breen.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
©1994-2022 Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, PC All rights reserved.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 84