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President Biden signs bill protecting mental health of healthcare workers

The act, now law, will provide up to $135 million in federal funding for mental health education and awareness campaigns.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Photo: Juanmonino/Getty Images

In recognition of the difficulties faced by healthcare workers, President Biden has signed into law the "Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act," which authorizes programs to improve mental and behavioral health among healthcare providers.

The act, now law, will provide up to $135 million in federal funding for mental health education and awareness campaigns aimed at protecting the well-being of healthcare workers.

Touted as the first law to provide such funding, it's named for Dr. Lorna Breen, an emergency medicine physician and faculty member at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center who died by suicide in April 2020 at the peak of the first COVID-19 surge.

"Healthcare professionals often forgo mental health treatment due to the significant stigma in both our society and the medical community, as well as due to the fear of professional repercussions," said Dr. Angela Mills, chair of emergency medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, by statement. "This law will provide much-needed funding to help break down the stigma of mental healthcare, providing education and training to prevent suicide, address other behavioral health issues, and improve well-being."


The pandemic is taking a toll on the mental and emotional wellbeing of physicians, with female physicians and those in critical care and infectious disease reporting the highest burnout rates during the public health emergency, according to findings from a December physician burnout report from Medscape.

The results speak to how the pandemic has dramatically affected the stress levels of physicians, clinicians and support staff at hospitals and health systems around the country.

Breen's death underscored the findings and gave them a face and a name.

The goal of the act is to prevent suicide, alleviate mental health conditions and substance use disorders, and combat the stigma associated with seeking help. It provides up to $135 million over three years to improve mental health and resiliency and train medical students, residents, nurses and other professionals in evidence-based mental and substance use disorders strategies. 

Grants will go to medical schools, academic health centers, state and local governments, Native American tribal organizations and nonprofit organizations.


According to the Medscape report, burnout and the stress of the pandemic – including factors such as personal risk, social distancing and financial uncertainty – appeared to diminish physicians' overall work life happiness, with only 49% reporting they were happy in 2020, versus 69% pre-pandemic. More than one-third (34%) reported feeling unhappy last year, compared with 19% in 2019.

Nearly 80% of physicians said they felt burned out prior to the pandemic, but one in five said their burnout emerged only last year. Critical care (51%), rheumatology (50%) and infectious disease specialists (49%) ranked among the highest in reporting burnout for the first time since Medscape began surveying on the issue in 2013.

Even prior to the pandemic, burnout among healthcare professionals was a pervasive public health concern, with some studies reporting burnout for more than 50% of clinicians. The topic was even broached last week at the HIMSS22 conference in Orlando, with some industry professionals suggesting that artificial intelligence and machine learning can help, in part reducing clerical and administrative burden.

Also at the conference, decorated Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps stressed the importance of mental health, saying it was far past time to break down the stigma of seeking behavioral healthcare.

Twitter: @JELagasse
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