Scott Hambleton, MD, DFASAM, Spring/Summer 2023

Scott Hambleton, MD, DFASAM

As we prepare for our 2023 Annual Education Conference in Minneapolis in May, reflecting on the work of the Federation in preparation for this event gives me a sense of tremendous gratitude and excitement! This event has been the highlight of my year, every year since the
first one that I attended in 2007 during my Addiction Medicine Fellowship in Mississippi. 

Throughout the years, I followed the sage advice of my friend and mentor, Dr. Roland Gray, at the Tennessee Medical Center Foundation to “get involved with the Federation!”. Serving on various committees, and then the board, and now, as your president, I can say that following his advice is one of the best things I have ever done! My interactions with all of you at the Federation have enriched my life, not only professionally, in a multitude of ways, but also personally, in terms of my own recovery journey. I have never met such a group of dedicated, passionate, gifted, and generous people in my entire life. My companionship with you has profoundly changed me and enhanced my well-being with a growing sense of gratitude. This journey with you has been a gift from heaven! 

Considering the multitude of activities and initiatives of the Federation, including the development and upcoming launch of the FSPHP-Evaluation and Treatment Accreditation (ETA)™ and Performance Enhancement and Effectiveness Program (PEER)™, we have much to be proud of as our work continues to come to fruition. One of these works in progress is our effort with friends and partners to decrease stigma through reforming questions on applications for medical licensure, credentialing, and liability insurance coverage. 

This reform is a direct result of the work of the FSMB Workgroup on Physician Wellness and Burnout, which was chaired by Dr. Arthur Hengerer, the Federation’s first public board member! Dr. Doris Gundersen, Past President of the Federation, also served on the Workgroup, which produced a 2018 report with recommendations for state medical boards, external organizations, and stakeholders to ensure physician wellness, recognizing that ensuring physician wellness is a component of the duty of state medical boards to protect patients. 

The necessity of asking probing questions about a physician applicant’s mental health, addiction, or substance use on applications for medical licensure or their renewal was examined, as well as whether the information these questions elicited might be obtained through means less likely to discourage treatment seeking among physician applicants. 

The Workgroup’s report recommended the utilization of Physician Health Programs with the option of “safe haven” nonreporting, when possible. In addition, specific language was provided as an example of licensure questions that focused on the presence or absence of current impairment. 

As a result of this report, Dr. Ken Cleveland, Executive Director of the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure, recommended changing licensure questions, and he began utilizing the language suggested in the report after the board members unanimously approved the change in May 2018. While the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure and other state regulatory agencies recognized the importance of decreasing stigma and promoting treatment as a viable mechanism to improve public safety, the changes remained largely unknown publicly.

However, that changed as the next seismic shift occurred resulting from the work of Corey and Jennifer Breen Feist, co-founders of the Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, which was created after Dr. Lorna Breen’s tragic death by suicide on April 26, 2020. Lorna practiced emergency medicine in Manhattan, New York, at the beginning of the COVID outbreak, with limited personal protective equipment, grueling long hours, and not enough help. After contracting COVID, Lorna returned to the front lines treating the relentless and overwhelming onslaught of incredibly sick patients. She became burned out, exhausted, and despondent. Lorna suffered in silence because of the fear of losing her medical license!

Since then, Corey, Jennifer, and the Foundation have worked tirelessly and effectively to overhaul the entire medical system. On March 18, 2022, in a bittersweet moment, after two years of persistent advocacy, President Biden signed into law the Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act. This historic legislation required the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish and distribute grants to hospitals, medical professional associations, and other healthcare entities for programs to promote mental health and resiliency among healthcare providers. Further, HHS must study and develop policy to remove barriers to accessing care and treatment and identify strategies to promote resiliency. Furthermore, the Government Accountability Office must report on the extent to which relevant federal grant programs address the prevalence and severity of mental health conditions and substance use disorders among healthcare providers. 

One of the many results of the Foundation’s work is that a national spotlight has illuminated the requirement for disclosure of mental health assistance, regardless of scale or severity, to some licensing boards and healthcare institutions. These efforts are expanding the work of the FSMB Workgroup, and this national spotlight and relentless advocacy by the Foundation are resulting in powerful change! 

Subsequently, the FSPHP has partnered with Corey and Jennifer Breen Feist and the Heroes’ Foundation in order to continue the fight to decrease stigma and encourage health-seeking by all healthcare providers. Utilization of PHPs, and particularly those with “safe haven” nonreporting, are being recognized as potent tools that promote confidentiality and physician wellness while enhancing public safety. The important role of PHPs working closely with their respective medical boards to initiate change is also being recognized. Corey is speaking at the Federation’s Annual Education Conference in Minneapolis next month.

All of these efforts are exemplified by the efforts of the FSPHP for the last three decades. As the Federation deploys the ETATM and PEERTM programs, the evaluation and treatment services provided to healthcare providers as well as the services of individual Physician Health Programs will continue to be perfected, and all of society will benefit. 

Stay tuned, we are living in exciting times!

Read more on this in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue.