Caring for our Caregivers: The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act

March 25, 2022 Fiona Sykes

Who is Dr. Lorna Breen? 

Dr. Lorna Margaret Breen (October 9, 1970 – April 26, 2020) was a physician and the Emergency Room Director in The Allen Hospital at the NewYork-Presbyterian in Manhattan. She was a marathon runner, a snowboarder, a musician, a dancer and an adventurer by nature. A Vanity Fair feature on Breen reports her as having a reputation for calm under pressure and a tireless work ethic. 

Breen was treating patients on the front-line of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020. In the midst of a family vacation, Dr. Breen died by suicide, which family members and colleagues believe was directly related to the undue stress, moral weight and emotional pressure of her role caring for the patients in her emergency room during the height of the pandemic. 

Breen herself had studied clinician burnout, specifically in her own hospital. She implemented a plan that centered around teams in the ER, believing clinicians are stronger together. The outcomes from her research confirmed what Breen thought she knew from her own lived experiences – working together did in fact reduce burnout. 

Making it easier for clinicians to ask for help 

Breen’s sister, Jennifer Feist, a lawyer and Co-Founder of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation asserts, “doctors need to be able to be human.” The foundation envisions a world “where seeking mental health services is universally viewed as a sign of strength for health care professionals.” 

The foundation initiated the legislation for the Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Provider Protection Act, signed into law on March 18, 2022. This law is an effort to provide critical resources in mental health support for healthcare professionals. 

The Lorna Breen Act helps promote mental and behavioral health among those working on the frontlines of the pandemic by supporting suicide and burnout prevention training in health professional training programs and increasing awareness and education about suicide and mental health concerns about healthcare professionals. 

How organizations can strive for a safer workforce 

We know that promoting wellness and prioritizing mental health resources for our frontline staff and beyond is paramount to building a safer workforce. Long before the pandemic, clinician suicide rates were far higher than that of the general population. The problems associated with injury and harm due to processes of patient care persist through the pandemic, and CANDOR principles are important to employ not only for patients and the organization, but also in an effort to care for the caregiver and strive for a culture of safety. The root causes of these problems need to be identified and responded to by health system leadership, but health system administrators need to have pertinent and easily accessible data available to them to make both long term strategic decisions, but also short-term solutions for the issues that need immediate attention. However, no health system administrator can create a safer organization or a safer workforce alone. As Breen’s research noted – we’re stronger together. We’re also safer together. 

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