Congress passes legislation to support programs designed to bolster mental health among healthcare professionals

February 18, 2022 11:17 pm

Hospitals will be among the potential recipients of federal grants for establishing programs that support the mental health and well-being of healthcare professionals.

Newly passed legislation aims to funnel federal resources toward helping healthcare professionals cope with the types of mental health challenges that have intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act passed in the Senate on Feb. 17 after having passed in the House two months earlier. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the measure into law.

The lastest batch of data illustrating the impetus for the legislation was a Morning Consult/Axios poll conducted Jan. 31-Feb. 11 with responses from 1,000 healthcare workers. Findings show half of workers feeling defeated by the demands of their jobs during the pandemic, with another 30% reporting they have struggled to cope with work stressors during the past six months.

Grant opportunities for hospitals and others

The legislation provides for grants to be awarded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to hospitals and other healthcare providers, along with medical professional associations, to establish or enhance evidence-based or evidence-informed programs dedicated to improving mental health and resiliency for healthcare professionals. Priority will be given to eligible entities in healthcare professional shortage areas or rural areas.

The objectives of such programs could include:

  • Improving awareness among healthcare professionals of risk factors for, and signs of, suicide and mental health or substance-use disorders
  • Establishing or enhancing peer-support programs among healthcare professionals
  • Providing mental healthcare and follow-up services — or referral to such care and services — as appropriate

In addition, academic medical centers will be among the entities eligible for grants to support the training of healthcare students, residents and other professionals in evidence-based or evidence-informed strategies to address mental health and substance-use disorders and improve mental health and resiliency.

Grants will span three years and will draw from an annual funding pool of $35 million

Establishing best practices

Within two years, the legislation calls for HHS to identify and disseminate best practices for preventing suicide and improving mental health and resiliency among healthcare professionals and for training healthcare professionals on those strategies.

The agency also must consult relevant stakeholders and establish a national evidence-based or evidence-informed education and awareness initiative to encourage healthcare professionals to seek support and care for their mental health or substance-use concerns. HHS can spend $10 million annually over the next three years on the initiative, which also is intended to:

  • Help healthcare professionals identify risk factors associated with suicide and mental health conditions and learn how best to respond to such risks
  • Address stigma associated with seeking mental health and substance-use disorder services

HHS also must report to Congress within three years on the following issues that affect healthcare professionals:

  • The prevalence and severity of mental health conditions, along with the factors that contribute to those conditions
  • Barriers to seeking and accessing mental healthcare, including concerns relating to stigma and to issues with licensing based on actions taken by state licensing boards, schools, industry associations and other organizations
  • The impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on mental health, along with lessons learned for future emergencies
  • Efficacy of training programs that promote resiliency and improve mental health

The inspiration for the bill

Lorna Breen, MD, was the ED director at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in New York City. She took her own life in April 2020 at age 49 after working on the front lines of the initial wave of COVID-19 and recovering from a bout with the disease.

“America owes an incredible debt of gratitude to the healthcare professionals who have worked tirelessly for the last year to keep us safe,” Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) said in a news release last March, when she and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) announced the bill. “Dr. Lorna Breen was a hero who embodied the spirit of service in our time of national crisis, and I’m honored to lead this bill in her memory and put forth this legislation to prevent burnout among the health professionals answering the call of duty.”

The American Hospital Association and American Medical Association were among the groups that supported the bill.


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