In June, Jennifer and Corey submitted written testimony to a Congressional hearing examining the pandemic’s toll on the mental well being of clinicians. The Feists included multiple calls to action imploring the various entities involved in the clinician wellness crisis—the health care industry, federal and state governments, health care rating agencies, and the clinicians themselves—to each do their part to chip away at the harmful stigmas that keep clinicians from seeking support.
Explore This IssueACEP Now: Vol 39 – No 09 – September 2020
In late July, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sen. Todd Young (R-IA), Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), and Sen. Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA), introduced S. 4349: The Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act to honor Dr. Breen and prevent suicide and mental health issues among health care professionals amid the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. The movement was gaining momentum.
For the Breens, the cause is equal parts uplifting and heart-wrenching. The hardest part, Corey said, has been reliving their loss over and over again. “When we’ve wanted to advance the conversation to how we can help others, what we keep getting pulled back to is, ‘Tell me the story again—we want to hear the gory details.’” As the Breen family grieves, each media interview and article published resurfaces painful feelings that leave them emotionally drained.
Lorna was a natural problem solver, a woman of action. At the time of her passing, she had recently co-authored a paper on physician burnout and was almost done chairing the work group that created ACEP’s point-of-care tool for managing patients with autism in the emergency department. (Her nephew has autism, Corey explained, so she was particularly passionate about that project.)
Powered by the same problem-solving instincts that fed Lorna’s drive, the Breens are dedicated to shifting the focus off Lorna’s personal story and on to the solutions needed to protect and prioritize the emotional well being of health care workers. “That’s the way [Lorna] would have operated,” Corey explained.
As the public and medical community mark Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 6–12) and National Physician Suicide Awareness Day (Sept. 17) during this pandemic that has only compounded the nation’s mental health crisis, the Breen family said they will continue to speak to the unspeakable in Lorna’s honor.
“She cared so deeply about her colleagues. …We feel like this work is spreading her,” Corey explained. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And it’s the most rewarding.”