On March 18, 2022, President Biden signed the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act into law. The law is named for Dr. Lorna Breen, who served as the Medical Director of New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital before her suicide in April 2020, a death her family attributes to the immense mental, emotional, and physical toll that responding to the first COVID-19 surge in New York City took on her well-being.
Dr. Breen declined getting help for the stress she was experiencing because she was concerned that seeking mental health support would negatively impact her career and ostracize her from colleagues. The law will direct $140 million in grant funding over the next 3 years for training programs on treatment to reduce burnout for health care professionals, offer mental health services and prevent deaths by suicide by health care workers. A recent study found that home care workers report poor mental health at double what typical American workers experience.
Funding for the law’s implementation was included in last year’s American Rescue Plan Act, over $100 million of which has already been allocated to 46 institutions across the country working to help health care professionals. Grantee organizations must use the funding to establish or enhance evidence-based or evidence-informed programs dedicated to improving mental health and resilience in the health professional workforce. Hospitals, community health centers, rural health clinics, and medical 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 health professional shortage areas or in rural areas. Examples of the kinds of activities that can be supported by the grants include:
- Improving awareness among health care providers about risk factors and signs of suicide, mental health, or substance use disorders
- Establishing or enhancing programs for suicide prevention and the improvement of mental health and resilience amongst health care providers
- Providing mental health care, follow up, or referrals to such services and care to health care providers
- Creating or improving peer-support programs for health care providers.
Th law also requires HHS to collaborate with stakeholders, such as health care professional associations, to establish a mental health education and awareness initiative. This initiative must encourage health care providers to seek care and support when experiencing mental health or substance abuse issues, help them learn to identify risk factors for these conditions, and teach them how to respond to such risks. This initiative must also seek to reduce stigma associated with pursuing help for mental health and substance use disorders. And no later than two years after enactment, HHS must also identify and disseminate evidence-based or evidence-informed best practices for improving health care provider mental health, preventing suicide, and strengthening mental resilience.
NAHC is encouraged by passage of this law. The mental and behavioral health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and response on health care workers of all kinds, including those working for home-based care providers, has been profound. Stigma, lack of awareness of treatment options, and inadequate programmatic funding have and continue to stymie efforts to connect workers with mental health supports. We are hopeful that this law, the first of its kind, is the beginning of a broader effort to better scale effective behavioral health interventions and strategies for the health care workforce.