PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – The COVID-19 pandemic has brought on a troubling trend, a rise in suicides among physicians and now their families are asking for more protection and treatment options for doctors during the pandemic. Newly released data shows cases of burnout in healthcare are skyrocketing.

Local Signs of a Growing Issue

Eight months into the U.S.’s his fight against the spread of COVID-19. Government officials across the nation continue to call on top health officials for their guidance. “So I did reach out to the medical officer for all the HCA system to ask him to poll his board certified physicians and so he did,” said Pinellas County Commissioner, Janet Long.

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In July of 2020, Pinellas County administrative officials spoke one-on-one with county health officials who pointed to the strain on our healthcare system. Dr. Angus Jameson, Medical Director at Pinellas County EMS revealed, “If I were to give you an honest assessment, I was in the hospital until fairly late last evening in the ER and I can tell you that the ERs are, an interesting place right now. They’re stressed at this point, from a physical standpoint but also, frankly, from a human standpoint. Your healthcare workers are exhausted. They’ve been at this for months. It’s not easy.”

Families of physicians and the medical professionals themselves are standing up to speak out about the fast growing risks our doctors and nurses are facing. Dr. Gary Price, President of the Physicians Foundation noted, “Prior to the pandemic, we actually had an epidemic of physician burnout. Prior to 2020, our surveys revealed that at least 40% of physicians were suffering symptoms of burnout. Unfortunately, the tragic endpoint for that for some is suicide. So there’s no question that we’ve seen the COVID pandemic make what was already a bad situation – much much worse.”

Physicians have the highest suicide rate of any profession. On Thursday, the Physicians Foundation released new numbers showing that the number of physicians suffering from burnout symptoms has increased to 58 percent.

A Step Toward A Solution

Cory Feist has been impacted directly. His sister-in-law, Dr. Lorna Breen was an emergency room physician in Manhattan, working as the city was being pounded with the onslaught of coronavirus cases. Dr. Breen died by suicide in April at age 49.

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“There’s a stigma in this country around getting mental health treatment. There’s also a cultural challenge in the healthcare profession in and of itself. It is not viewed as a courageous act to sit down or to tap a colleague on the shoulder and say you need to take a break.”

Feist is pushing for more action from the Senate and Congress to pass the Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Provider Protection Act. The bill would create behavioral health and well being training programs and encourage physicians to seek treatment when needed.

Feist continues, “It currently has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Don’t wait. This can happen in the blink of an eye. These folks are putting themselves in harm’s way every single day.”

The Physicians Foundation identifies five warning signs to be aware of. The first is health and the increased usage of medications, alcohol or illicit drugs. Second is emotional changes that can include extreme mood swings or despair. The third is a noticeably negative attitude which can include inappropriate outbursts of anger or sadness. The fourth is relationships and the withdrawal from friends, family and coworkers. Last is temperament, such as anxious, agitated or recklessness.

If you need further guidance or you are in a crisis, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) for free 24/7 support.

CW44 News at 10 will continue closely monitoring this issue, be sure to check back for further coverage.

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