By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

Three proposals in front of Congress would address burnout, suicide, and other mental health concerns among healthcare professionals.

The latest, the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, was introduced this week. Named after an emergency physician who died by suicide in April, this bipartisan proposal would establish grant funding to support education and training on mental well-being.

“No one can witness that much suffering firsthand without it affecting them, and we must help provide the necessary resources and support now,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-VA, a bill co-sponsor. “We must also take steps to promote a culture of mental health among students, residents, and healthcare professionals so those who are struggling feel comfortable reaching out for the treatment and support they need.”

“Doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers shoulder the responsibility of saving lives. The COVID-19 pandemic adds to that stress and increases their own risk of becoming infected,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, another bill co-sponsor and physician. “This bill is an important lifeline for medical professionals so that they, too, can get the help they need even as they care for others.”

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) expressed its support for the Senate proposal, calling Dr. Breen “one of our own … an exemplar emergency physician.”

“Nobody should be forced to choose between their mental health and their career,” said ACEP President William Jaquis, MD. “Healing from this experience will be nearly impossible unless we eliminate the barriers to mental health treatment for physicians.”

In the House, lawmakers are working on similar legislation called the Coronavirus Health Care Worker Wellness Act. Through the Department of Health and Human Services, this act would provide grants to expand wellness programs and establish a long-term commission dedicated to working on clinician mental well-being.

U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-IL, whose wife is a physician, champions this legislation, noting, “I’ve seen the burden this pandemic has placed on healthcare workers as they’ve risked their lives to save others.”

“Reports from across the country have depicted the devastating impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the mental health of our nation’s frontline providers,” said U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-KY, another bill co-sponsor. “Many have faced critical supply shortages and endured long and stressful hours as they work to treat COVID-19 patients. … This bipartisan bill empowers medical facilities to establish or expand programs dedicated to promoting mental wellness among workers on the frontlines.”

Emergency Nurses Association President Mike Hastings, MSN, RN, CEN, and American Medical Association President Susan Bailey, MD, both put their groups’ support behind this proposal.

Finally, the HERO Act of 2019, a public safety officer-centric resolution, now includes an amendment that would provide grant funding for health and wellness programs targeted to healthcare workers. The amendment was included at the request of U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-TX, also a physician.

The upcoming September issue of ED Management (EDM) features a report about the ongoing COVERED project. Investigators are aiming to identify which practices and which pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) make the most difference in preventing personnel from acquiring COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is funding the project with a $3.7 million grant, enabling researchers to enroll and follow participants at 20 academic medical centers. The project is a collaboration between EMERGEncy ID NET, a CDC-supported network of 12 EDs studying emerging infectious diseases, and the National Emergency Airway Registry, a multicenter group studying the intubation of patients in the emergency department.

Along with the September issue of EDM is the quarterly ED Accreditation Update supplement, which goes into much more detail about how healthcare leaders can respond to not only basic needs but also facilitate connections for clinicians who require treatment and psychological support.

“I think we have learned more and more that if we don’t attend to the emotional and psychological needs of the caregiver, the clinician, then patients don’t get a fair shake,” said Donald Berwick, MD, MPP, FRCP, the president emeritus and a senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. 

In the upcoming September issue of Hospital Peer Review, author Greg Freeman reports on the need for leaders to watch for signs of impaired clinicians. The added stress of caring for COVID-19-afflicted patients, coupled with many other daily hassles, may be driving some healthcare professionals to use drugs or alcohol to cope. Experts explain how to identify root causes, recognize when colleagues may be impaired on the job, and what can be done to help.

For all the latest Relias Media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic, please click here.