WPRI 12 News Washington DC Bureau

‘Pandemic in a pandemic’: New push in Congress aims to prevent health care worker suicides as COVID rages on

Washington DC

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Doctors and nurses have been pushed to the breaking point during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, one U.S. senator from Virginia is urging Congress to pass a bill to help them, so they can continue to help others.

“This is essentially a pandemic in a pandemic,” Jennifer Feist said Wednesday.

Feist is the sister of Dr. Lorna Breen. Dr. Breen was an emergency room physician in New York City at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — working 12-hour shifts, with limited PPE and beds.

Breen contracted the virus herself, but later returned to work with long hours and no sleep.

Weeks later, Dr. Breen died by suicide.

“We view my sister’s death as something that was avoidable, to be honest,” Feist said.

Dr. Lucas Collazzo with INOVA Health said this isn’t a new issue, but a problem the pandemic has magnified.

“Half of our workforce, physicians specifically, are suffering from some sort of burnout,” Collazzo said.

Collazo said that needs to change.

“You know, I didn’t come to medical school to become depressed. I also didn’t go to medical school to not be able to do what I’m trained to do and that’s take care of patients,” he said.

Dr. Breen’s sister and Dr. Collazo were on Capitol Hill this week urging Congress to help physicians so they can continue helping others.

“It can do a lot of tremendous good helping our healers stay healthy,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said.

Kaine is working to pass a bill named after Dr. Breen in Congress. The bill looks to identify best practices for reducing and preventing suicide and burnout among health care workers and establishes grants for employee education and peer support.

The legislation passed the Senate in August but has yet to come up in the House.

Feist said she wants to see it pass for her sister and the countless health care workers who need help.

“It’s really important for us to make change for those health care workers who are still here,” she said.

This push comes ahead of Friday, which is National Physician Suicide Awareness Day.

If you or someone you know is in need of help; call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

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