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Sen. Kaine honors late doctor from VA with new bill

Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 4:32 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) - As more than 1,300 Virginians fight for their lives against COVID in hospitals, it’s the health of the frontline workers caring for them that is often overlooked.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) is working to change that. He’s introducing legislation to look out for the physical and mental wellbeing of the doctors and nurses who need the help.

The bill is named in honor of Dr. Lorna Breen, a Charlottesville, VA-native who headed emergency room operations at New York Presbyterian’s Allen Hospital leading up to the COVID pandemic.

“She had always wanted to be a doctor in New York City, and she did it.” said Breen’s sister, Jennifer Breen Feist. “She was literally living her dream.”

But when the pandemic hit, that dream quickly became a nightmare.

Within a span of three weeks, Breen went from treating COVID patients, to contracting the virus herself, to jumping back into the frontline fight.

“She just had it in her blood to get back in there and to not complain and to not ask for help, and that was her undoing,” said Breen Feist.

The stress of the job, paired with her own recovery, led to her taking her own life April 26, 2020.

“Healthcare burnout has been an issue. It’s not a brand new issue, it’s something that was on the rise and COVID just kind of poured gasoline on that fire,” said Emily Boucher, a COVID ICU Nurse at Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon, VA.

“Heroes are supposed to be bulletproof, but what happens when our armor breaks down and we don’t know how to, or we’re afraid to protect ourselves?” asked UVA Medical Center’s Dr. Taison Bell.

Bell and Boucher feel the same stresses Breen felt day in and day out.

“We’ve experienced suffering and death and loss over and over and over again,” said Boucher.

“This is not an aberration,” said Kaine. “This is a fact of life for these occupations.”

Kaine is introducing legislation with bi-partisan support to offer millions of dollars in resources to reduce and prevent suicide, burnout, mental health conditions, and substance abuse disorders among healthcare workers.

“The Lorna Breen Act will help bring those who are suffering in silence out of the shadows to get help now, and it will make a meaningful long-term impact on the industry as well,” said Breen’s brother-in-law, Corey Feist.

Kaine originally introduced this legislation last year, but says it was put on the back-burner while lawmakers tackled COVID relief.

He feels confident the Lorna Breen Act will pass this time around.

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