NYC hospital doctor who worked ‘challenging front lines of the emergency department’ dies by suicide

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Dr. Breen

Dr. Lorna Breen (NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia)

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — A New York City hospital doctor took her own life Sunday, police said.

Dr. Lorna Breen succumbed to self-inflicted injuries at UVA Hospital, according to the Charlottesville Police Department. Police Chief RaShall Brackney mourned her loss.

”Front line health care professionals and first responders are not immune to the mental or physical effects of the current pandemic,”Chief Brackney said. “On a daily basis, these professionals operate under the most stressful of circumstances, and the coronavirus has introduced additional stressors.”

Breen worked in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital.

“Words cannot convey the sense of loss we feel today,” Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian said in a statement. “Dr. Breen is a hero who brought the highest ideals of medicine to the challenging front lines of the emergency department. Our focus today is to provide support to her family, friends, and colleagues as they cope with this news during what is already an extraordinarily difficult time.”

Her father, Dr. Philip C. Breen, told the New York Times she had described working with patients with coronavirus.

“She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” he told the Times. “Make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was. She’s a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died.”

Breen’s loss has shed a light on the struggles of the community holding our nation together.

“It’s physically demanding. It’s emotionally demanding. At the end of the day we’re all just pretty drained,” said Dr. Ben Laitman, an ear, nose and throat resident.

Dr. Laitman was thrust onto the front lines when he volunteered his services at Elmhurst Hospital.He’s kept an ongoing blog about his experience — one he said he will never forget.

Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist, said what healthcare professionals are experiencing is far from ordinary.

She said the levels of anxiety, depression and PTSD being experienced among this group is unlike any other time in modern history.They are under immense pressure and the world is counting on them.

“As any kind doctor in any field of medicine, we go through school and our training and we learn treatment plans and protocols and paradigms and we say A plus B equals C. And suddenly that formula doesn’t work,” explained Hafeez.

Hafeez suggested friends and family of front-line workers reach out to them regularly.

As for our essential workers themselves, she offered these tips:

  • Take the time to decompress
  • Practice compartmentalizing your day
  • Eat and rest when possible
  • Recite self affirmations

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). It’s a free, 24/7 service that offers support, information, and local resources. You can also click here for additional hotlines within the tri-state area and the nation.

For additional resources, click here.

Reach Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a provider interviewed for this story, by clicking here.

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