Further Change Needed for the Wellbeing of our Nation’s Health Workers

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (September 20, 2023) – In recognition of Suicide Prevention Month, the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation announces milestone achievements in preventing suicide and supporting the mental health of our nation’s health workers. As part of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation Annual State of Our States: WellBeing First Champions, half (25) of state medical boards are recognized as WellBeing First Champions for changing invasive and stigmatizing mental health questions in their licensing applications, a 47% increase from last year. For the first time, 12 health systems, including 75 hospitals and 59 urgent care centers, are also recognized as WellBeing First Champions for making these changes to credentialing applications.

“My sister-in-law, Dr. Lorna Breen, did not access the support she needed for fear of losing her job, her medical license and facing ostracism from colleagues – and in April 2020, she died by suicide,” said Corey Feist, co-founder and president of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation. “Unfortunately, her story is all too common. Every day, countless health workers are facing situations like Lorna’s. However, we must continue to remove these barriers to support health workers and make sure that they know they can pursue the care that they need to prevent tragic outcomes.”

Licensure, Credentialing & Legislation Progress Made Nationwide
As of September 12, 2023, 25 state medical boards – up from 17 last year – are now recognized as WellBeing First Champions. These states include California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Washington, benefitting more than 638,250 physicians. Furthermore, 11 states, including Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin, are in the process of making these changes.

Similar to applications among state licensure boards, hospitals and health systems often include invasive and stigmatizing mental health questions in credentialing applications, addendums and peer review forms. As of September 12, 2023, 12 health systems are recognized as Wellbeing First Champions, meaning they have audited and changed these questions in all applications. These health systems include Augusta Health, Bon Secours Mercy Health, Centra Health, Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters, Henry Ford, Inova Health System, Mary Washington Health Care, Northwell, GoHealth Urgent Care, Sentara Health System, University of Virginia Health System and Valley Health System, nine of which are in Virginia. These changes ultimately benefit more than 127,000 health workers. Additionally, 21 health systems are in the process of making these changes.

Lastly, some states have taken action to support health workers through legislation. The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation collaborated with state legislatures to pass laws in Virginia and Illinois, which established state-wide requirements to change or remove mental health questions in applications. More states have started to explore this route, including Michigan and Delaware, where legislators have introduced similar bills.

“The progress made over the last year to protect health workers’ access to mental health care is truly monumental,” said Feist. “The changes made to these applications are life-saving, and their impact extends beyond measure. We commend all the WellBeing First Champions for demonstrating their dedication to preventing suicide and supporting the wellbeing of their healthcare workforce.”

Need for Further Support of Our Health Workers
While state medical boards have made tremendous strides to support physicians, more action is needed to drive changes for hospitals and health systems. Additionally, these changes must be made in nursing licensure boards, specialty licensure boards and insurance/malpractice applications.

In collaboration with Ohio State University, the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation is analyzing the current state of mental health questions in nursing licensing applications. Nursing licensure boards are encouraged to verify that their applications are free of these questions.

“Every physician, nurse and health worker in our country deserves the opportunity to safely access the mental health care they may need without fear of consequences,” concludes Feist. “The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing change and driving solutions until every state and hospital has removed this barrier.”

Licensure boards, hospitals and health systems can use the ALL IN: WellBeing First for Healthcare licensing and credentialing toolkit and verify their applications to become WellBeing First Champions.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation expresses its immense gratitude to the American Medical Association, whose dedication, time and support made these advancements possible.

About the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation
The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded by the family of Dr. Lorna Breen. The mission of the Foundation is to reduce burnout of health care professionals and safeguard their wellbeing and job satisfaction. Their vision is that obtaining mental health support services is universally viewed as a strength and job requisite for health care professionals. The Foundation has three main tactics to achieve long-term change:

  1. Advise the health care industry on wellbeing initiatives that provide holistic mental health supports.
  2. Build awareness on mental health prevalence to reduce the stigma; and
  3. Fund research and programs that seek to reduce health care professional burnout and improve their wellbeing.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, alongside Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Thrive Global and the CAA Foundation and Creative Artists Agency, co-founded and co-lead ALL IN: WellBeing First for Healthcare, a coalition that focuses on systems-level, evidence-based solutions to improve healthcare worker mental health and well-being and shift the cultural stigma around health workers accessing mental health services.