“Under the Dome” – Get Well Soon!

  • Conte, Antonio, MD, MBA, FASA
| Jul 19, 2021

Antonio-Conte-MD-MBACSA Co-Sponsored AB 562, authored by Assembly Business and Professions Committee Chair Evan Low (D-Campbell) and co-authored by Assembly Business and Professions Committee Vice Chair Heath Flora (R-Ripon) establishes mental health resiliency programs that will provide critical wellness, mental health, and substance abuse services to COVID-19 frontline health care providers.

Other co-sponsors of AB 562 include the California Medical Association (CMA) and the United Nurses Association of California (UNAC). One strategic initiative LPAD has established for CSA is building unique thought leader partnerships in the Legislature with non-traditional anesthesiology allies like organized labor. In this instance UNAC.

Frontline health care workers, especially anesthesiologists, are experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic, but little action has been taken to address the devastating toll on these heroes, who are experiencing mental breakdowns, broken relationships, alcohol, and substance abuse, and even committing suicide.

In an attempt to alleviate the burden so many frontline health care workers are facing — and will likely carry for months and years after the pandemic — Assemblymember Low has introduced AB 562 to establish a temporary mental health resiliency program to provide additional services to frontline COVID-19 providers.

“If the true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable people, we should be equally concerned with how well we support heroes who have been working nonstop during a generational crisis,” Assemblymember Low said. “The pandemic has placed our nurses, physicians, and frontline health care workers under enormous stress, and they’ve been carrying this unbelievable burden for nearly a year. The trauma they’ve experienced will not just go away when vaccines become ubiquitous, and the pandemic comes to an end. We need urgent action to support these heroes by expanding access to mental and behavioral health services.”

Within three months of enactment, AB 562 would require the Department of Consumer Affairs to work with relevant healing arts licensing boards, including the Medical Bord of California, and contract with one or more third-party vendors to provide free services to qualifying licensees. This would include in-person and telehealth services to support mental and behavioral health needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Other services would range from counseling and wellness coaching to providing online psychological distress self-assessments and other mental and behavioral health services and tools. AB 562 also includes important privacy protections for program participants, ensuring they will not be penalized simply for signing up.

CSA Past President Christine Doyle, MD, a constituent of Assemblymember Low who works in Silicon Valley, noted that the experiences in a single shift can range from stressful to somber with little time to process what has occurred. She was forced to become an expert on personal protective equipment early on in the pandemic, as she made recommendations about PPE to state officials who were developing guidelines and constantly changing protocols for California health care systems.

“One anesthesiologist who was redeployed to the ICU then had to self-quarantine because the other ICU physician he was working with ended up COVID positive, and they had been sharing an office,” Doyle said. “We were working under immense stress every hour of the day due to the overload of patients requiring critical care while they simultaneously posed a deadly health risk to attending staff. The strain sticks with you regardless of the patient’s outcome.”

“We need our health care providers to stay healthy and strong so they can continue to provide the best care possible for their patients,” said Jeffrey Poage, MD, CSA Immediate Past President. “This pandemic has created unimaginable stressors on the health care workforce, pushing us to work longer and harder and in tougher conditions than many of us have ever experienced. It has shone a bright spotlight on the need for better mental health and support systems for frontline workers, and this bill will create new tools to help with burnout, prolonged stress and trauma so that healthcare providers who are suffering can get help, recover, and move forward with renewed resiliency.”

As the lead witness providing subject matter expertise throughout the legislative committee process thus far, I continue to remind the Legislature in my remarks that physician anesthesiologists are guardians of patient safety in the operating room, in the delivery room, in the intensive care unit, in pain management clinics, and on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Physician anesthesiologists undergo over 12 years of education and training to navigate critical life-and-death moments in the operating room and multiple procedural areas. They also provide emergency services and serve as airway management experts for the sickest of patients diagnosed with and suffering from COVID-19.

However, physicians like us, nurses, and other frontline health care workers have been under extraordinary stress during the past year working longer hours, day after day, in tougher conditions than ever before. CSA wants to make sure they all have access to effective and confidential mental and behavioral health resources if needed.

We need physician anesthesiologists and our other frontline health care providers to stay physically healthy and mentally strong so they can continue to provide the best care possible for their patients.

CSA strongly believes AB 562 will create new tools to manage burnout, and treat prolonged stress and trauma associated with seeing firsthand the devastating effects of COVID-19. All frontline workers deserve to recuperate and move forward with renewed resiliency as we all recover from the devastating impact of the pandemic in California.

AB 562 is currently pending before the Senate Appropriations Committee and will need to be on Governor Newsom’s desk no later than Friday, September 10, 2021.

For any questions or additional information, please feel free to contact CSA Lobbyist Bryce Docherty at bdocherty@tdgstrategies.com.

If you miss a day “Under the Dome” – you miss a lot!


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