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Proposed bill would protect front line health care workers, honor doctor who took her own life

Dr. Lorna Breen got COVID-19, recovered, but came back too quickly and didn't seek help, because she feared it would hurt her career.

WASHINGTON — The year-and-a-half long coronavirus pandemic-- now fueled by the Delta variant and by unvaccinated members of the population--- is taking a major physical and emotional toll on health care workers across the country.

Charlottesville native Dr. Lorna Breen got coronavirus herself and recovered, but then came back too quickly. 

And she was reluctant to seek any help out of fear it might harm her career.

In April of 2020, at the height of the first wave of the pandemic, Lorna took her own life.

"The implausible part of this story of my sister is that she had no prior mental health issues, known or suspect," said Jennifer Feist, Breen's sister. "She didn't have anxiety. She had no mental health history, no substance abuse or addiction. She  was just working in New York, living her dream. And this is what happened to her."

An April 2021 Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that 70 percent of health care workers between the ages of 18-29 indicated they are feeling burnout.

The "Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act ," sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia,) would establish grants that seek to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout and mental and behavioral health conditions among health care professionals.

"We're not being honest to our statement that we consider health care folks heroes if we're not there for them and try to provide avenues so they can seek healing themselves," he said.

In early August, the Senate unanimously passed Kaine's bill. A companion bill was introduced in March in the House and is awaiting consideration there.

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