Emergency Doctor at Hospital Facing Pandemic Kills Herself

Lorna Breen had seen horrific scenes during outbreak
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 27, 2020 4:40 PM CDT
'It Killed Her,' Father Says After ER Doctor Dies by Suicide
New York Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Manhattan, shown in 2016.   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

An emergency room chief physician at a New York hospital who had described coronavirus patients dying in ambulances before they could be taken inside has died by suicide. Dr. Lorna Breen, 49, died Sunday, said her father, who discussed the toll the pandemic took on his daughter. "She tried to do her job, and it killed her," Dr. Philip Breen said. New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital has 200 beds, the New York Times reports, and has had up to 170 COVID-19 patients at once. Lorna Breen had come down with the virus, and tried to go back to work after recovering. She was sent home, then went to Virginia to stay with her family. A colleague says Breen, medical director of the emergency department, worked to get protective equipment for her staff members, then checked on them by text while she was recuperating. "She was always the physician who was looking out for other people’s health and well-being," the colleague says.

Her father said Breen didn't have a history of mental illness, but he thought something was wrong during their last conversation. He found his daughter detached in discussing the horrors she'd seen. "She was truly in the trenches of the front line," he said. A doctor at a sister hospital said physicians are facing unusual mental health challenges during the pandemic, suddenly having to treat colleagues and worry about becoming infected and passing the virus on to loved ones. "A death presents us with many questions that we may not be able to answer," an email from the hospital to staff members on Sunday said, per the Times. "Make sure she’s praised as a hero, because she was," Breen's father said. "She’s a casualty just as much as anyone else who has died." (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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