ACP Champions Reauthorization of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act

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Passage of the reauthorization bill would expand the national education and awareness campaign and continue to provide solutions to reduce health care worker burnout

March 8, 2024 (ACP) -- The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is set for reauthorization this year, and the American College of Physicians is stepping up support for its continuation.

Dr. Lorna Margaret Breen, an emergency room director at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, died by suicide in 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. Her death drew much-needed attention to rising rates of physician burnout and led to the passage of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act in 2022.

The law has funded grants, education and awareness campaigns that aim to help reduce stigma around mental health and prevent and reduce incidences of suicide, mental health conditions, substance use disorders and stress among the physician workforce. The bicameral, bipartisan reauthorization bill, H.R. 7153/S. 3679, would continue the grant programs for another five years, expand the scope of a national education and awareness campaign and provide hospital and health system leaders with evidence-based solutions to reduce health care worker burnout.

Without congressional action, these grant programs will expire at the end of this year.

"Since it became law, access to mental and behavioral health support and treatment has improved for physicians across the country," said Vy Oxman, ACP senior associate of legislative affairs. "ACP supports reauthorization, which would build on the progress the law made by further strengthening critical programs to prevent burnout and improve access to resources for mental and behavioral health services -- key factors to help address the current physician workforce shortage."

While the initial law made important inroads, there is still work to be done. A 2024 Medscape Physician Burnout & Depression Report showed that 53 percent of physicians who reported feeling burnt out and/or depressed have not and will not seek professional help.

"We are seeing more and more physicians leave the workforce," Oxman noted. "They are either aging out of the workforce or leaving because of burnout, which is really starting to impact patients' access to care."

ACP recently signed onto a joint letter with other medical organizations to the congressional leaders who introduced legislation in January to reauthorize the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act. In the letter, the organizations write, "health care professionals still face greater and increasing rates of mental and behavioral health conditions, suicide and burnout than other professions. We must continue working to ensure an environment where each and every health care professional always has access to the necessary mental health care services they need and deserve, without the fear of loss of licensure, loss of income or other meaningful career setbacks associated with the stigma of getting the help they need."

"We also recently submitted a statement for the record to Congress in support of this bill and will continue to work with other medical specialty organizations and physician groups to advocate for reauthorization," Oxman said.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act helped to normalize the conversation around the need for mental health services among frontline health care workers, according to Oxman.

"Particularly with physicians, there seems to be a culture that avoids seeking professional help regarding mental health issues, and a large part of that is due to stigma and the professional risks associated with them disclosing their treatment activities to medical boards," she said. "This culture has contributed to physicians in the United States facing higher incidents for suicide than almost any other profession."

One way to bolster the workforce is to support physicians and ensure they have access to effective strategies and resources to prevent stress and burnout.

That is why ACP created the I.M. Emotional Support Hub, which offers curated resources and information to improve physicians' emotional health. The hub includes a well-being video series featuring ACP members who offer practical strategies to cope with daily burdens, peer support and counseling.

"I urge ACP members to use these resources and to engage in mental health and emotional well-being conversations with their colleagues to help reduce the stigma that often comes with physicians asking for professional mental and behavioral health services," Oxman said.

ACP also has a state health policy toolkit to help physicians advocate for the removal of inappropriate mental health questions from state medical licensure. "The goal of the toolkit is to serve as a resource for physicians and to help remove any potential stigma about receiving mental health care or having a mental health diagnosis that may result in physicians not receiving care," she said.

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