Bill assuring Kentucky physicians confidential access to mental health support clears committee

Published 11:28 am Thursday, February 16, 2023

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By Sarah Ladd

Kentucky Lantern

A bill aimed at preventing burnout in Kentucky’s physician ranks by supporting mental health access sailed out of committee Wednesday morning.

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Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 12 easily passed the Senate Standing Committee on Health Services unanimously with nine bipartisan yes votes.

The bill would offer protections for Kentucky doctors who seek mental health help from wellness programs by stating they do not need to report their participation in such a program and they cannot be dismissed for not reporting it.

The bill does not relieve physicians of reporting conditions that would hinder their judgment.

Dr. Evelyn Montgomery Jones, the president-elect of the Kentucky Medical Association, said before the committee that COVID-19 has been a “significant driver” behind physician burnout and KMA supports the bill.

Consequences of such burnout include lower patient satisfaction, Jones said, as well as low morale, high turnover, increased rates of substance abuse and even suicide.

“While the stigma surrounding physician’s mental health is multifaceted,” Jones said, one reason is “exposure liability.”

Sponsor Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, said, “Having a private, a trusting and a quiet environment to be able to express our stresses to others without fear of retaliation is really imperative to physicians.”

Being a healthcare provider, he said, is a “very demanding and a very stressful profession.”

“In medicine, physicians really are trained to be more concerned about the health and welfare of their patients. And we often neglect our own health and our own wellbeing,” said Douglas.

Chair and Sen. Stephen Meredith echoed this. “A lot of healthcare professionals are facing just tremendous struggles like we’ve never seen before,” he said. “Historically, society has viewed physicians as almost god-like, that you’re above these day-to-day problems, and obviously you’re not. We certainly need a gentler, kinder world to live in.”