Kaine, UVA Health workers discuss healthcare providers mental health protections bill

Kaine, UVA Health workers discuss healthcare providers mental health protections bill
Updated: Aug. 13, 2020 at 6:08 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A new bill, sponsored by U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) aims to provide better training and resources for the mental health of doctors and other healthcare workers, something he discussed with UVA Health employees at a town hall Thursday afternoon.

Physician stress and burnout is a problem that has existed for years, made all the more serious as doctors often report feeling like they can not take action or seek treatment for fear of professional repercussions. The long running problem was brought to national attention when New York E.R. Dr. Lorna Breen took her own life in Charlottesville, while visiting her sister, Jennifer, and brother-in-law Corey Feist as she tried to get away from the front-lines of the fight for a time.

“I have spoken literally with hundreds of healthcare providers across this country, and they’re tired,” Feist, CEO of the UVA Physician’s Group said. “They’re dedicated to the work, but they’re tired and they’re running a marathon that doesn’t have a clear finish line.”

The bill, called the Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Provider Protection Act, would provide more mental healthcare resources and training for health workers. Breen’s family is championing the bill, saying it will help doctors and nurses battle stress.

“That a healthcare provider doesn’t feel like they can take a break, that they can go get mental health support,” Feist explained. “That’s what happened to my sister-in-law,”

Breen’s family is fighting back against the trend with a new nonprofit, the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation. Their first order of business has been supporting this bill, which Sen. Kaine says will focus not only increasing mental health training for healthcare professionals, but also increasing awareness in the workplace.

“It increases awareness and education of suicide mental health issues among healthcare professionals,” Kaine explained. “Then it will try to help promote mental and behavioral health best practices.”

Kaine says that beyond providing resources, the bill hopes to start a larger process of changing the culture, and ending the stigma of asking for help.

“We have to make sure that people who want to be healers can’t be afraid to acknowledge that they need help because they’re worried about how that they could lose their job or their credentials if they sought assistance for mental health,” Kaine said.

Breen’s family says that they hope that with the help of this bill, and the conversation that has started, more doctors will feel empowered to seek help.

Feist says he hopes that it helps other families avoid the tragedy they went through. “We truly owe it to those people who are standing in the front-lines right now with us, taking care of us every day to take care of them,” he explained.

UVA Health does have resources available for doctors and other health system employees, including the UVA Faculty and Employee Assistance Program, the Compassionate Care Initiative, and others.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation website also has more resources available.

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