Healthcare workers have endured a lot since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S., and now Congress is trying to do something about it.
The Senate passed a bill aiming to address burnout and other mental health issues among healthcare professionals Thursday. The measure is named after Dr. Lorna Breen, who died by suicide last year after serving on the front lines of the battle against the novel coronavirus in New York.
The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), would create grant programs to train healthcare professionals and students on strategies to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout and other behavioral health problems. The bill would also direct HHS to create an evidence-based education and awareness campaign targeting healthcare professionals that encourages them to seek mental and behavioral health care.
Providers would gain access to grants to finance mental and behavioral health programs for employees who have treated COVID-19 patients. The funding could be used to provide treatment and other services, and providers in health professional shortage areas or rural areas would be prioritized.
"Even before the pandemic, far too many healthcare workers suffered from work-related burnout and depression," Kaine said in a news release. "Unfortunately, these mental health challenges have only been exacerbated during COVID-19, putting the well-being of our healers at risk."
The American Rescue Plan Act, which President Joe Biden signed in March, includes $140 million for the mental health initiative. The Senate-passed bill authorizes the programs' creation.
Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) introduced the House version of this bill, which has 111 cosponsors, in March. The lower chamber has taken no action on the legislation to date.
Congress may take further steps to address the mental health consequences for healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients.
The Senate Finance Committee will take on the issue soon, Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) indicated this week. The panel will evaluate ways increase access to mental health treatment by addressing workforce shortages, supporting integrated care, improving oversight and enforcement of mental health parity laws, and expanding access to telehealth services for behavioral health.