Second Annual Dr. Lorna M. Breen Lecture to Feature Award-Winning Poet

April 19, 2022
Lorna M. Breen, MD
Lorna M. Breen

Columbia’s second annual Dr. Lorna M. Breen Lecture on April 28, 2022, will be hosted by the Department of Emergency Medicine and the Office of Academic Affairs at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and by NewYork-Presbyterian. The annual lecture was created last year to honor the memory of Lorna M. Breen, MD, who was medical director of the Allen Hospital Emergency Department when she died April 26, 2020.

This year’s lecture will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Alumni Auditorium in the William Black Medical Research Building, followed by a reception. Opening remarks will be given by Angela M. Mills, MD, the J.E. Beaumont Professor and Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine; Laura L. Forese, MD, MPH, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of NewYork-Presbyterian' and Anne L. Taylor, MD, Vice Dean for Academic Affairs at VP&S, Senior Vice President for Faculty Affairs and Career Development at CUIMC, and the John Lindenbaum Professor of Medicine. Special guests Corey and Jennifer Feist, family members of Lorna Breen and founders of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes Foundation, will be in attendance.

Keynote speaker

The keynote address will be given by Elizabeth Alexander, PhD, a nationally recognized poet, educator, and president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the nation’s largest funder in the arts, culture, and humanities in education. Before joining the Mellon Foundation, Alexander was the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor of Humanities at Columbia University from 2015 to 2018. Alexander previously taught African American studies, American studies, and English at Yale University for 15 years.

Elizabeth Alexander, PhD
Elizabeth Alexander (Photo: Mellon Foundation)

Alexander’s address will focus on the unique and powerful experience of health care workers who “sit with life and death.” Honoring Lorna Breen’s legacy, Alexander will reflect on the consequences of this work on ideas such as power, purpose, and pain and discuss the need for personal healing and recovery among health care professionals.

Alexander is a New York Times best-selling author, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, and recipient of the 2005 Jackson Poetry Prize. Alexander composed and delivered the poem “Praise Song for the Day” at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. Her newest book, “The Trayvon Generation,” was released April 5, 2022.

Breen Act update

President Biden signed the Dr. Lorna Breen Health Care Provider Protection Act into law on March 18, 2022. The new law is the first of its kind to offer funding for mental health education and advocacy directed toward protecting health care workers. Among supporters of the act present at the signing were Rep. Susan Wild, Rep. Frank Pallone, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Sen. Tim Kaine, Rep. Judy Chu, and Corey and Jennifer Feist.

Specifically, the Breen Act aims to prevent suicide, burnout, and mental and behavioral conditions among health care workers. With the passage of the act, up to $135 million will be provided over three years to improve mental health training strategies and opportunities for health care professionals.