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Representatives Krishnamoorthi, Katko, And Wilson Introduce The Bipartisan Coronavirus Health Care Worker Wellness Act

June 19, 2020
Press Release
The legislation would address the issue through grants to promote health care worker mental wellness and launching additional research

SCHAUMBURG, IL – Yesterday, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), along with his colleagues Representatives John Katko (R-NY) and Frederica Wilson (D-FL), introduced the bipartisan Coronavirus Health Care Worker Wellness Act to address the unique mental health challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created for our nation’s health care heroes. Specifically, the bill:

  • Authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to make grants to health care providers who wish to establish or expand programs dedicated to promoting the mental wellness of their workers on the front lines of COVID-19; and 
  • Authorizes HHS to commission a comprehensive, multi-year study on health care worker mental health and burnout, including an assessment of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

“As the husband of a physician, I’ve seen the burden this pandemic has placed on health care workers as they’ve risked their lives to save others,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi. “This landmark legislation would directly address the toll this crisis has taken on the mental wellness of frontline health care workers through establishing and expanding programs to provide them the support they need and launching new research into their mental health, including the factors contributing to high rates of stress, depression, and burnout.” 

“Health care workers have been at the frontlines of an unprecedented crisis, selflessly risking their well-being to care for our communities. Carrying out this work in the midst of a pandemic takes an enormous toll and we must do more to better support them, especially by ensuring that they have access to mental health care,” said Rep. Frederica S. Wilson. “I applaud Congressman Krishnamoorthi for championing this effort and am proud to join him in introducing needed legislation to help those who have been exposed to severe stress and trauma while fighting the coronavirus.”

“Reports from across the country have depicted the devastating impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the mental health of our nation’s frontline providers,” said Rep. John Katko. “Many have faced critical supply shortages and endured long and stressful hours as they work to treat COVID-19 patients. In an effort to ensure these frontline healthcare providers have access to mental health resources as they cope with the traumatic impact of treating COVID-19 patients, I’m proud today to join Rep. Krishnamoorthi in introducing the Coronavirus Health Care Worker Wellness Act. This bipartisan bill empowers medical facilities to establish or expand programs dedicated to promoting mental wellness among workers on the frontlines. With healthcare workers sacrificing so much during this crisis, we must do more to provide them support.”

“As ENA president and an emergency department manager, I have seen firsthand how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted emergency nurses, and other front-line health care providers, on a professional and personal level – and how it is affecting their mental health and well-being,” said Mike Hastings, MSN, RN, CEN, president of the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA). “On behalf of ENA and all emergency nurses, I want to thank Rep. Krishnamoorthi for introducing this legislation which is so important right now. ENA believes this bill will not only help address the immediate causes of this mental health crisis, but ensure that we also identify the underlying factors leading to burnout and depression among nurses and other health care providers.”

“Issues surrounding mental wellness, stress, and burnout were of the highest concern to physicians before the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Susan R. Bailey, MD, President, American Medical Association. “Frontline health care workers, especially physicians, treating patients with COVID-19 are now experiencing even greater psychological strain. This unique level of stress and potential emotional trauma deserve closer analysis. The American Medical Association applauds Reps. Krishnamoorthi, Katko, and Wilson for introducing the Coronavirus Health Care Worker Wellness Act. Grants to health care employers to develop or expand wellness programs – as well as the federal government study on mental health and burnout – will help physicians treating COVID-19 patients cope with the psychological impact of this unprecedented crisis.”

“ACEP is proud to support the ‘Coronavirus Health Care Worker Wellness Act of 2020.’ We sincerely appreciate Rep. Krishnamoorthi’s continued leadership in ensuring emergency physicians and other health care providers can get the mental health treatment they need as they serve on the front lines of the most serious public health crisis of our lifetime,” said William Jaquis, MD, FACEP, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). “This legislation will not only provide the critical mental health resources that emergency care teams need today, but it will help us better understand the unique considerations and challenges when it comes to improving mental health and burnout rates among health care workers in the future.”

“Surgeons, physicians, and healthcare providers are facing unprecedented and overwhelming mental health and well-being challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because COVID-19 is a novel virus, the absence of evidence-based protocols, treatments, vaccines, and best practices affects health care personnel at virtually all levels,” said David Hoyt, MD, FACS, Executive Director of the American College of Surgeons. “The Coronavirus Health Care Worker Wellness Act of 2020 would provide critical resources to study and address health care providers’ well-being and mental health needs resulting from the COVID-19 public health emergency. The American College of Surgeons supports this bipartisan legislation and thanks Reps. Krishnamoorthi, Katko, and Wilson for their leadership on mental health issues.”

COVID-19 has created a nationwide mental health crisis with frontline health care workers at an especially high risk of developing acute and long-term conditions as a result. Severe shortages of personal protective equipment, illness and death on an unprecedented scale, and isolation from family members are just some of the stressful challenges these heroes have faced.

One study found that half of health care workers in hospitals with COVID-19 patients had symptoms of depression, almost half had symptoms of anxiety, and over one-third had symptoms of insomnia. Many are expected to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at rates comparable to soldiers returning from war. The April suicide of Dr. Lorna Breen, an emergency room physician in New York City, brought the stark reality of this situation into focus.

Before the pandemic, many health care workers and trainees already suffered from high rates of depression, burnout, and suicidality. We lose an estimated 300-400 physicians to suicide each year, and burnout, which the National Academy of Medicine defines as “high emotional exhaustion, high depersonalization (i.e. cynicism), and low sense of personal accomplishment from work,” is present in an estimated 35-54% of physicians and nurses. Not only do health care workers suffer when they struggle with depression and burnout, but so too do their patients.

The introduction of this legislation follows a bipartisan letter the bill sponsors sent to House leadership last month, which garnered the support of over 50 organizations representing health care workers across specialties. 

Read the bill text here.