Earlier this month, the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) for COVID-19 ended, drawing to a close a more than three-year effort to ensure access to testing, vaccination, and treatments.
While COVID-19 remains a “public health priority” according to the Department for Health and Human Services, it certainly, if even just on paper, marks the end of a long era in healthcare. As physicians, COVID-19 took a special toll on both our physical and mental health. Like many of you, I still remember the fear and anxiety I felt as I walked my first COVID-positive patient through her diagnosis and outlined the steps for quarantine. The masking and isolation protocols, the social distancing, the long hours and shifts spent stressing over not only the health and safety of my patients, but of myself and my family as well. Although the PHE may be over, our collective experience is unforgettable.
That’s why I was so relieved by the passage of Senate Bill 12 this past legislative session. The new law was a KMA priority bill and encourages physicians to seek care when needed through a wellness program and ensures that a record of a physician’s participation in such a program is confidential and has legal protections. Now more than ever, physicians need to be able to access the mental health care they need, without fearing that doing so will put their jobs or reputations in jeopardy.
With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s also worth reminding that KMA recognized the need for confidential wellness services for physicians several years ago, when it introduced the “Be Well. Stay Well. Physician Health Program.” The program provides up to six free visits with a licensed therapist for KMA members in rural areas of the state. Similar programs are available for physicians in the Lexington and Louisville areas through those county societies as well. If you are struggling with trauma related to COVID-19, burnout, or any of the other challenges that come with working in a high-stress profession, I would encourage you to learn more about the “Be Well. Stay Well. Physician Health Program” at https://kyma.org/bewellstaywellphp/.
While I hope that each of you are finding ways to rejuvenate the practice of medicine in your life, I also hope that you will take advantage of the protections provided in Senate Bill 12, and the benefits provided by your KMA membership through the Be Well. Stay Well. Program, should you need it. Our mental health care should be just as much a priority as our physical health care, and I’m happy that the KMA has made it easier than ever before for us to access it.