SILVER SPRING, MD—The American Nurses Association (ANA) hails the signing of the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act (S. 610/H.R. 1667) into law by President Joseph R. Biden. This bipartisan legislation will direct $140 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (H.R. 1319) to train current and future health professionals on how to prevent suicide, burnout, and substance use disorders. The bill is named for Dr. Lorna Breen, who tragically died by suicide after being consumed by feelings of helplessness and despair while treating COVID-19 patients during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020.
"Enacting this law is a critical first step towards providing our nurses with the support they need to help alleviate some of the extraordinary duress they have been working under for the past two years," said ANA President Ernest J. Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN. "I am also hopeful that this will start to chip away at the culture of stoicism and silence within health care that prevents many providers from seeking help for mental health issues when they need it. I would like to thank Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Todd Young (R-IN) and Representatives Susan Wild (D-PA) and David McKinley (R-WV) for their leadership and support on this issue."
The law will establish a national evidence-based education and awareness initiative to encourage health care professionals to seek support and care for their mental health and substance use concerns. This measure will also teach health care professionals how to identify and respond to the risk factors associated with suicide, mental health issues, and substance use disorders while reducing the stigma associated with seeking help for them. The law also includes a reporting mandate that requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to provide an update on the progress of this initiative to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions of the Senate and the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives no later than two years after the bill is enacted.
“By signing this legislation into law, President Biden and all the members of Congress who supported it have shown their commitment to prioritizing the mental health of our nursing and health care workforce,” said Grant. "Without more action like this the future of the nursing profession, and the American health care system, will be at stake. More nurses, including younger ones who are just entering the workforce, are struggling with mental health issues, feeling unsupported, and suffering from severe burnout and post-traumatic stress because of their sustained response to the COVID-19 pandemic."
A January survey of nearly 12,000 nurses by the American Nurses Foundation (the Foundation) found that close to half of nurses surveyed under age 35 said they have sought professional mental health support since March 2020. And 47% of nurses under 25 and 46% of nurses between 25-35 reported being not emotionally healthy compared to nurses over the age of 55 (19%). These younger nurses were also more likely to have experienced an extremely traumatic, disturbing, or stressful event due to COVID-19. Survey respondents under the age of 25 were also more than twice as likely (69%) to report suffering from burnout as those older than 25 (30%).
Even before the pandemic, nurses were at greater risk of suicide than the general population, according to a February 2020 study from Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, which found that female and male nurses were more likely to experience job problems compared to the general population. Female nurses were 1.4 times more likely to complete suicide than the general population. Additionally, nurses who died by suicide were also more likely to have a history of mental health difficulties and were more likely to have left a suicide note.
These extraordinary times in health care call for all leaders, Congress, and the Administration to continue to examine the challenges impacting the nursing profession and deploy short and long-term solutions. ANA is committed to advocating for the needs of nurses and supporting their mental health and well-being. ANA’s Nurse Suicide Prevention website offers resources, toolkits, and information to mitigate the risk of nurse suicide. The Foundation has developed the Well-being Initiative, a collection of resources designed to help nurses take the necessary steps to manage the stress and overcome the trauma caused by COVID-19.
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The American Nurses Association (ANA) is the premier organization representing the interests of the nation's 4.3 million registered nurses. ANA advances the profession by fostering high standards of nursing practice, promoting a safe and ethical work environment, bolstering the health and wellness of nurses, and advocating on health care issues that affect nurses and the public. ANA is at the forefront of improving the quality of health care for all. For more information, visit www.nursingworld.org.
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