Both the US Senate and the House of Representatives passed a bill to “improve the mental and behavioral health among health care providers” that President Biden signed on Friday.
The Dr Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is named after Lorna Breen, a New York City emergency medicine physician who died by suicide in April 2020, as Covid-19 raged across the city and the country. By all accounts a tireless worker, she was ultimately overwhelmed by what she experienced during those dark early days of the pandemic.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, health care institutions were struggling with maintaining the wellness of their workforces. Rates of burnout, depersonalisation, and emotional exhaustion were all significantly higher among healthcare workers than in the general population. Even more alarming, physicians and nurses complete acts of suicide at rates significantly higher than workers in other professions.
The pandemic added fuel to this fire, as healthcare workers fought to provide care to legions of sick patients amid staffing and equipment shortages. Before the pandemic, approximately 40% of health care workers reported feeling burnt out. Now, between 60% and 75% of US healthcare workers report feeling emotionally drained and depressed.
Clearly, something has to change. With the Breen bill, Congress hopes to halt this tragic wave of depression and burnout among health care workers by providing grants to hospitals and other health care organisations to “promote mental health and resiliency among health care providers.”
Yet the solution the Breen bill proposes will not lead to meaningful change. Giving hospitals money to “promote wellness” will not magically heal healthcare workers.
During the pandemic, hospitals across the country put up signs lauding their workers as heroes. Though hospital administrators may have given themselves pats on the back for such efforts, the signs meant little to those working without adequate personal protective equipment, or telling family members they could not visit dying loved ones, or wondering if they'd bring Covid home to their families and friends. The signs haven’t stopped scores of workers from leaving the healthcare field.
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