Sánchez Leads Call to Prioritize Mental Health Services for Frontline Healthcare Workers

April 15, 2020
Press Release

Washington, DC—Rep. Linda T. Sánchez (CA-38)—along with Reps. Grace F. Napolitano (CA-32), Katie Porter (CA-45), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-39), Judy Chu (CA-27), Mike Levin (CA-49), Harley Rouda (CA-48), J Luis Correa (CA-46), and Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40)—led a letter to Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy urging Congress to address the mental health care needs of essential frontline healthcare workers in future relief legislation.

“This crisis has pushed our nurses, doctors, and other essential healthcare workers to their limits—many of them comparing the working conditions to that of a war zone,” said Congresswoman Sánchez. “Thousands have gotten sick on the job and we know the after-effects will linger long after this pandemic subsides. We are depending on these professionals to work through a pandemic and they should not be left out of future relief bills. We must prioritize and look out for their mental wellbeing.”

Full text of the letter:

April 15, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader McCarthy,

As the House develops additional legislation to help our country overcome the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, we, as Members of Congress representing Los Angeles and Orange Counties, one of the nation’s COVID-19 hotspot areas, urge you to take action to address the mental health care needs of essential frontline healthcare workers as one of your highest priorities. We are deeply troubled by reports of the heavy physical, mental, and emotional burden faced by these workers who are on the frontlines of this crisis.

While the CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act took sorely needed steps to shore up support for workers affected by the pandemic, they did not do enough to provide essential mental health support for frontline healthcare workers. As hospitals, community health centers, and other urgent care providers in our districts are stretched to their limits and are forced to work without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), many of these workers are themselves becoming infected by COVID-19 while having to continue working round-the-clock.

As of April 14, 2020, 2,599 healthcare workers in California have tested positive for COVID-19. On April 13, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported three healthcare workers have died from COVID-19. Nationally, we have seen the reports of nurses, doctors, and other essential healthcare workers dying from COVID-19. Our country is failing these crucial workers. We clap and cheer for them each night, praise them in press conferences, and pray for their wellbeing, but that cannot be enough. Our local healthcare heroes are facing trauma head on each day with patients and colleagues getting sicker and seeing death on a larger scale. Many workers are unable to return home each night to be with their loved ones for fear of passing on the virus. Even if they do go home, many are isolating away from their family by sleeping in their garage, basement, or even in tents outside.

Late last month, The Journal of American Medical Association published one of the first studies on frontline healthcare workers who worked during the COVID-19 pandemic and their mental health. The cross-sectional study in China found “a considerable proportion of health care workers reported experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress, especially women, nurses, those in Wuhan, and front-line health care workers directly engaged in diagnosing, treating, or providing nursing care to patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.” While more studies are needed, we cannot deny that our country is already seeing a workforce traumatized by this pandemic and will continue to see its effects long after Americans return back to work and a vaccine is discovered. The care and support we provide these workers now and after the pandemic are crucial to our country’s current and future success. The country is already anticipating a physician shortage, so we cannot afford to dismiss the mental health needs of this population.

The Senate Democrats’ proposed “Heroes Fund” package is a great first step to rewarding, retaining, and recruiting essential workers, but there needs to be inclusion of funds that specifically target mental health. While many receive mental health care through their health insurance, the access and cost can be a deterrent to receiving care. We encourage you to continue working towards finding a solution. No legislation can make healthcare workers and their families whole during this extraordinary time, but we urge you to do everything possible to alleviate their burden in the next legislative package. This aid should include immediate financial relief as well as support for families to recover from the lasting psychological impact that will extend well after the COVID-19 pandemic abates.

Thank you for considering the mental health of our valuable frontline healthcare workers in future legislation as we work together to help our country defeat the pandemic.