CHARLOTTESVILLE — Family members of a New York City hospital emergency department director who died in a relative’s Charlottesville home say the woman was exhausted by her hospital’s battle with COVID-19 and her own bout with the disease.
Dr. Lorna Breen, 49, led New York-Presbyterian Allen Hospital’s Manhattan emergency department as the city battled a surge in COVID-19 cases that led to shortages of beds and supplies and saw hundreds of deaths.
She died Sunday of self-inflicted injuries while recuperating at her sister’s Charlottesville home.
The Charlottesville Area Community Foundation is administering the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Fund, which was created to provide mental health services to health care providers.
Family and coworkers call Breen a hero for her efforts at running the emergency department and treating the flood of critically ill and dying patients. The New York area has seen more than 10,000 deaths from the virus in just the past few weeks, according to The New York Times.
Breen even contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. She recovered and quickly rejoined her hospital crew in an effort to save lives as the pandemic’s surge of cases resulted in increasing deaths.
“Dr. Breen is a hero who brought the highest ideals of medicine to the challenging front lines of the emergency department,” an official statement from hospital officials reads. “Our focus today is to provide support to her family, friends, and colleagues as they cope with this news during what is already an extraordinarily difficult time.”
Charlottesville police and fire/rescue medics responded to a call Sunday at a home on Winston Road and transported Breen to the University of Virginia Medical Center, where she later died.
“Frontline healthcare professionals and first responders are not immune to the mental or physical effects of the current pandemic,” said Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall Brackney. “On a daily basis, these professionals operate under the most stressful of circumstances, and the coronavirus has introduced additional stressors.”
Brackney said first responders and medical personnel can wear protective gear, but that does not make them immune to what they see.
“[Gear] cannot protect heroes like Dr. Lorna Breen, or our first responders, against the emotional and mental devastation caused by this disease,” she said.
Several local officials also shared information about the Virginia Community Response Network, which provides free telehealth services for front-line first responders and essential workers. Information can be found on VCRN’s website or by calling (434) 202-6322.
Breen’s father, Dr. Philip C. Breen, told reporters this week that his snowboarding, salsa dancing, cellist daughter loved to travel and volunteer, especially for the elderly. He said being “right in the trenches on the front line” of COVID-19 had a brutal impact on her.
“She felt an obligation to help her colleagues who were fighting the war,” Breen told several news outlets.
He said he last spoke to his daughter before she went back to New York-Presbyterian for a 12-hour shift. He said she described a terrifying scene at the hospital, with patients dying before they could even be taken out of the ambulance.
Those scenes and her illness left her exhausted, he said.
“She was a hero,” her father said. “I want her to be remembered as someone who did everything she could until it killed her.”