Bill to allow health care providers to seek mental health help outside of workplace moves to Utah Senate

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The Utah State Capitol Building is located in Salt Lake City. Meetings for the 2023 General Session of the 65th Legislature runs from Jan. 17 to March 3, where House Bill 78 will be discussed and voted on. (AP Photo)

House Bill 78, informally known as “Scott’s Bill,” passed onto the Senate on Thursday, Jan. 26. Scott’s Bill is run up by House Representative Steve Eliason from Salt Lake County. 

As Eliason introduced Scott’s Bill to the House of Representatives, he explained the bill’s background. 

The bill was named after Dr. Scott Jolley, an emergency room physician, who died in 2021 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jolley committed suicide after trying to seek medical help but was prevented from receiving adequate care. 

“Medicine, ironically, is a profession that punishes some doctors and other health care workers for getting mental health care. Many physicians and health care workers are under intense pressure and exposed to trauma on the job,” Eliason said to the legislative body.

The bill will allow all health care providers in Utah to turn to their insurance providers and request a single case agreement, allowing the health care provider seeking behavioral health services to receive care covered by insurance at other facilities.

These facilities would include those other than where the health care provider is employed. 

According to Eliason, Jolley was prohibited from receiving care at any other facility than his place of employment. The stigma of being treated by colleagues prohibited him from receiving life-saving care. 

Senator Jen Plumb from Salt Lake County is the floor sponsor of the bill and is a physician herself.

“It’s not always easy for healers to accept or admit they need help. It’s even harder for them when their only option for help means seeing someone they work with. This bill is vital to helping protect the health and wellness of those who work in healthcare,” Plumb said on the bill.

Bill 78 passed in the House of Representatives with 73 affirmative votes and no votes against it. It now sits with the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, awaiting a decision.

House Representative Rosemary T. Lesser, minority caucus manager, spoke in “strong support” of the bill while the legislature was in session. 

Lesser said she knew Jolley from her work as a physician and even delivered one of his children. While speaking to the House of Representatives, Lesser asked for support.

“I commend the bill sponsor from Salt Lake County who has worked so diligently with everyone, and I urge your support so that we can reduce the number of healthcare workers who have had barriers placed to care,” Lesser said to the legislative body.

In an article published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine titled “The Culture of Medicine and Physician Suicide,” Dr. Myles Greenberg discussed the change he hopes to see in the medical community. Greenberg was a close friend of Jolley and the Jolley family.

Greenberg described Jolley’s experience of being treated by colleagues as intolerable. Two weeks after being released from a stay in the hospital, Jolley committed suicide. 

“Why am I sharing this painful story? In my opinion, Dr. Scott Jolley died because of the culture of medicine,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg first met Jolley in their residency at the University of Pittsburgh in 1993 and they were close friends ever since. 

“Our mentors and colleagues in medicine set the example for us: don’t take breaks, work despite being sick or exhausted, don’t admit errors and don’t appear vulnerable — especially not to fellow clinicians,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg said the manifestations of medicine’s unhealthy culture didn’t provide the support Jolley needed when he asked for it.

“Other manifestations include a lack of compassion or accommodation for colleagues who need it, a maniacal focus on productivity, and fear of admitting to mental health problems and seeking care. All of these fed Scott’s distress,” Greenberg said.

Individuals are calling for change, and large organizations are in support.

“This bill has the support of the Utah Medical Association, the Utah Hospital Association and, I am happy to say, several insurance mandates that I’ve run over the years. This is the first bill in that category that the health insurers came to the committee and said, ‘We support the policy in this bill,’” Eliason said.

The 2023 Utah’s general session of legislature runs from Jan. 17 to March 3. Supporters hope to see more “yes” votes in the near future.

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