What the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act Means for Nurses
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Disclaimer: If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential, and anyone can use this service. (For more information, see: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.)
Based on findings from a study done between 2007 and 2018, nurses and physicians are at much greater risk for suicide than the general population. The study, which was concluded before the COVID-19 pandemic, correlated suicide rates to high-stress working conditions and stigma around mental health treatment.
As we await updated data for mental health conditions and suicide rates among healthcare workers in the aftermath of the pandemic, here's one thing we know: Change is on the way.
The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is in motion to save lives. Discover how the act aims to promote mental healthcare and prevent suicide among healthcare professionals.
What Is the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act?
Dr. Lorna Breen was a daughter, sister, aunt, and an emergency physician at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York. She died by suicide on April 26, 2020.
Breen was the director of an emergency department at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital during the initial surge of COVID-19. Between chaotic working conditions and lack of resources, it's apparent that she reached a point of exhaustion from which she couldn’t return.
It wasn’t until after her death that Dr. Breen's family discovered the stigma around mental health conditions and healthcare professionals. They discovered physician licensing boards require a history of mental health treatment as part of their credentialing process. These requirements often lead to stigma around mental health treatment, and self-care is often viewed as selfish.
The Dr. Lora Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act was created to normalize and prioritize mental healthcare for healthcare workers.
On March 18, 2022, President Biden signed the act into law. According to the act, the government must provide a framework and funding for programs that improve mental health among healthcare professionals.
Provisions of the Dr. Lora Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act include:
- Education about suicide prevention, burnout, substance misuse, and mental health conditions
- Peer support and behavioral health treatment
- National education and public education campaigns about mental health awareness
- National campaigns encouraging healthcare workers to get help
The act states that federal funding should be given to hospitals and healthcare associations to develop training and educational programs about mental health. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must develop policy guidelines backed by research to inform these programs.
By 2024 HHS will be responsible for measuring the outcomes of these programs. This will include reporting rates of mental health conditions, substance use disorder, and death by suicide among healthcare professionals.
Provisions of the Act
The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act provides certain requirements, including how and when each will be met.
- HHS must "identify and disseminate" evidence-based research to improve mental health and resiliency for healthcare professionals.
- Education and awareness programs will be carried out to focus on reducing the stigma around mental health and encouraging healthcare providers to seek help.
- Mental health education programs will be rolled out to teach healthcare professionals ways to improve mental health.
- HHS will review the programs' outcomes. They'll provide data measuring healthcare professionals' mental health after the training programs.
- The comptroller general will submit a Government Accountability Office report. This will show how effective the grant programs were at addressing mental health among healthcare professionals.
What Does the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act Mean for Nurses?
If you're a nurse working in a healthcare facility, expect to receive mental health training in the next two years. According to the act, you should receive education about:
- Identifying suicide risks for healthcare professionals
- Managing risks
- Improving mental health
- Developing resilience strategies as a nurse
You should also expect to see public education about mental health for healthcare professionals. The act covers funding for public awareness campaigns to recognize and prevent mental health conditions and suicide among healthcare professionals.
What Responsibilities Are Placed on Healthcare Entities?
Healthcare employers are now mandated by law to develop and carry out training programs for suicide prevention and mental health awareness for staff. With federal funding available to support the initiative, nurses should expect to undergo mental health training at their facilities.
An overarching goal of the Dr. Lora Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is to reduce the stigma around healthcare professionals and mental health. Nurses may see more conversations about suicide prevention and mental well-being at staff meetings and hospital forums.
Healthcare facilities may also choose to take a root-cause approach to improving nurses' mental health and well-being. They may consider enacting nurse-to-patient ratios to address staffing shortages in healthcare facilities and create safer work environments for nurses.
Healthcare facilities may also supply nurses with resources to safely deliver care, such as adequate personal protective equipment during an outbreak.
How to Ensure You're Taking Care of Your Mental Health
As a nurse, remember to check in with yourself to see how you're doing mentally, emotionally, and physically. The past two years have been exhausting, so ask yourself how you are feeling. How can you overcome the nurse burnout you're experiencing?
Here are some ways you can practice self-care for nurses and increase your mental well-being as the Dr. Lora Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act is carried out across healthcare facilities.
Take Care of Your Body
As a nurse, you're managing the physical and emotional strain from working in a high-stress environment. Taking care of your body is essential to promoting mental well-being. Find an exercise regimen that you enjoy and a diet regimen that works for you.
No matter how drained you feel on your days off, remember to go outside at least once a day to get some sunshine.
Speak to Someone
It may seem like your family and friends outside of work have moved on from the pandemic while you're left with its lasting impact. If this is the case, speaking to a therapist can help. You can engage in app-based therapy or use discounts from professional healthcare and nursing organizations listed below.
Having emotional support outside of work or therapy is important too, so reach out to family to let them know if you're struggling.
Be a Part of the Change
The founders of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation are working to prevent other healthcare professionals from succumbing to suicide. As training programs begin to roll out, you can be a part of the change by being an active participant.
Engage in conversation with colleagues and be honest about how you're doing. This is the most effective way to reduce the stigma around mental health in medicine.
Mental Health Resources for Healthcare Providers
In addition to the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation, national organizations have developed programs to support healthcare professionals in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some mental health resources available to healthcare professionals.
- The American Nurses Association's (ANA) Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation program is committed to making sure nurses are healthy. The ANA provides free resources to help nurses cope with burnout and stress as well as prioritize self-care.
- All In: Wellbeing First for Healthcare is an organization committed to workforce well-being. In collaboration with the Lorna Breen Foundation, the organization urges a call to action for healthcare environments to make healthcare workers' well-being a priority.
- The Therapy Aid Coalition and The Emotional PPE Project connect essential workers with free or discounted therapy.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides resources for healthcare professionals in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They offer strategies for building resilience, therapy aid, and peer support for nurses.
- If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
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