WASHINGTON — Lawmakers expressed bipartisan support for the reauthorization of legislation aimed at protecting health care workers from burnout Wednesday.

The legislation follows an uptick in mental health emergencies faced by health care providers as a result of occupational burnout, with more than  46% of health care workers reporting that they are experiencing burnout, and 44% of those workers saying they are looking for a new job. 

The bill, called the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, was debated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is aimed at making structural changes within hospitals to prevent provider burnout. 

“Burnout is an occupational syndrome related to the external environment in which people work,” said Corey Feist, the CEO and co-founder of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation. “[It] is like a bleeding wound…until you address the environment of care, the source of the bleeding, you have not fixed the wound at its source.”

The foundation, and the sequential legislation, is named after Feist’s sister Lorna Breen, a doctor who died by suicide following the stress put upon her as a doctor in New York City during the pandemic. 

At Wednesday’s hearing, Feist shared testimonies from health care providers that echo his family’s experience. In his opening statement, he read a portion of a letter written by Tristin Kate Smith, a nurse who, like Lorna, died by suicide after experiencing burnout in the industry. 

“I gave my heart, my body, and my mind to you; dedicated long hours and days and gave you all my all,” wrote Smith in a letter titled Dear Abuser. “I no longer feel like you care about me or the people you say you serve…when we dare to think we are finally going to get the love and support we deserve, we get a pizza party and free pens for the “healthcare heroes”… I so desperately want to continue to help people, but I cannot stay in this abusive relationship.”

For female health care workers like Smith or Breen, they are more than eight times more likely to take their own lives than the general female population. 

“Doctors are trained to put their own feelings aside, and work long hours and not admit when they are having a mental health crisis,” said Rep. Schrier (D-Wash.), who worked as a pediatrician before joining Congress. “That is the culture of medicine.”

The proposed bill would change systemic factors that contribute to burnout. Rather than emphasizing individual resistance, an approach often criticized for being isolating, it would instead encourage hospital environments to change.

Included in these changes is an alteration to how medical facilities provide insurance coverage, which incentivizes doctors and nurses to seek care from within their own hospital system, a reality that Feist said leads to shame and embarrassment when having to confess a mental health emergency to a co-worker. 

“Their employer defines who provides them the care and, in most cases, your hospital system provides insurance to your employees,” said Feist, “You tend to not want to broaden the network of options because you’re kind of paying your competitor to take care of your employees.”

The proposed bill is a renewal of the 2021 Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act, which provided 44 health organizations with $103 million to establish “mental health and well-being strategies.”

While the Act impacts more than 60,000 health care workers in the country, it reaches less than 1% of the hospitals. 

“More than 400 physicians die each year by suicide and rates of physician suicide,” said Rep. Miller Meeks (R-Iowa), a physician on the committee.

If the bipartisan bill is renewed, Feist says it would focus on expanding its reach, targeting hospital systems procedures and approach to staff care.

“Every health care worker in this country is experiencing a mental health crisis right now,” said Feist.

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