Top E.R. Doctor Who Treated Virus Patients Dies by Suicide


A top emergency room doctor at a major Manhattan hospital that treated coronavirus patients died by suicide on Sunday, according to her father.

Dr. Lorna M. Breen, the medical director of the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital, died in Charlottesville, Va., where she was staying with family, her father said in an interview.

Her father, Dr. Philip C. Breen, said she had described devastating scenes of the toll the coronavirus took on patients.

“She tried to do her job, and it killed her,” he said.

The elder Dr. Breen said his daughter had contracted the coronavirus but had gone back to work after recuperating for about a week and a half. The hospital sent her home again, before her family intervened to bring her to Charlottesville, he said.

Dr. Breen, 49, did not have a history of mental illness, her father said. But he said that when he last spoke with her, she seemed detached, and he could tell something was wrong. She had described to him an onslaught of patients dying before they could even be taken out of ambulances.

“She was truly in the trenches of the front line,” he said.

He added: “Make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was. She’s a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died.”

The hospital did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dr. Angela Mills, head of emergency medical services for several NewYork-Presbyterian campuses, including Allen, sent an email to hospital staffers on Sunday night informing them of Dr. Breen’s death. The email, which was reviewed by The New York Times, did not mention a cause of death. Dr. Mills, who could not be reached for comment, said in the email that the hospital was deferring to the family’s request for privacy.

“A death presents us with many questions that we may not be able to answer,” the email read.

NewYork-Presbyterian Allen is a 200-bed hospital at the northern tip of Manhattan that at times had as many as 170 patients with Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. As of April 7, there had been 59 patient deaths at the hospital, according to an internal document.

Dr. Lawrence A. Melniker, the vice chair for quality care at the NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, said that Dr. Breen was a well-respected and well-liked doctor in the NewYork-Presbyterian system, a network of hospitals that includes the Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the Weill Cornell Medical Center.

“You don’t get to a position like that at Allen without being very talented,” he said.

Dr. Melniker said the coronavirus had presented unusual mental health challenges for emergency physicians throughout New York, the epicenter of the crisis in the United States.

Doctors are accustomed to responding to all sorts of grisly tragedies. But rarely do doctors have to worry about getting sick themselves, or about infecting their colleagues, friends and family members. And rarely do they have to treat their own co-workers.

Dr. Dara Kass, an emergency medicine physician who worked with Dr. Breen, said that even while Dr. Breen was home recovering from Covid-19, she texted colleagues to check in and see how they were doing. Earlier, she had tried to make sure her doctors had protective equipment or whatever else they needed.

“She was always the physician who was looking out for other people’s health and well-being,” Dr. Kass said.

[If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources. Here’s what you can do when a loved one is severely depressed.]

Benjamin Weiser and Joseph Goldstein contributed reporting.



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