Cornell’s Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership Program Announces the Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Legacy Fellowship

In the spring of 2020, the Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership class of 2021 lost a beloved member with the passing of Dr. Lorna Breen. She was a talented physician who served as the emergency department director at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital.

When New York City hospitals and health systems were overwhelmed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Breen fought for her community on the front lines. The pandemic presented innumerable challenges for healthcare workers, taking a painful toll on the physical and mental health of many. Included in the pandemic’s tragedies was the passing of Dr. Breen, who took her own life on April 26, 2020.

To honor the life of Dr. Breen, the class of 2021 dedicated their fundraising through the Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Legacy Fellowship. Their mission is to make an impact on the complex issue of mental health. They hope the work done by future fellows will reduce the stigma around mental health, safeguard the well-being of healthcare professionals and communities, and reduce burnout in the field.

In its inaugural year, the Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Legacy Fellowship will recognize an EMBA/MS student for their contributions in promoting and expanding mental health services within the community. The recipient of the fellowship will propose a meaningful project aimed to expand mental health services and support to healthcare workers, students, or the community. The project will also exemplify the character of Dr. Breen, who made extraordinary contributions to her class through comradery, collaboration, caring spirit, and leadership.

Terri Casterton (MBA, MS, ’21), class representative, knew Dr. Breen’s character well. Simply put, she always showed up. “Leading a busy emergency department, in and of itself, was such a heavy lift. But amidst all of that, Lorna signed up for this program, and always showed up with a smile and an authentic intent to relate to and learn from the people in the room. It’s the same way she showed up for her patients by sitting next to them, eye to eye, to connect.” 

Anna Berent (MBA, MS, ’21), a friend and classmate, was also struck by Dr. Breen’s presence in the program. “Lorna was so integral, that sadly we only appreciated how much she impacted our lives as a friend, classmate, and a consummate professional after she was gone. She was a giver and was perpetually concerned for everyone's well-being in our program.  We hope with this fellowship, other program cohorts get to recognize and support classmates who are like our Lorna. This fellowship is meant to support those who want to make a difference and make the world a better place.”

After her passing, a “What would Lorna do?” spirit helped guide the class of 2021 in creating this fellowship. They knew they could not just sit around in their grief. “This fellowship is part of a bigger movement around shifting how we think about provider well-being and making it okay to talk about,” Terri said. “There should not be any reason, including the potential loss of medical licensure, why people should feel shame or think they should keep their struggles under wraps.” While Dr. Breen’s story is tragic, it is unfortunately not the only one of its kind.

The Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, led by Dr. Breen’s sister and brother-in-law, is currently addressing these concerns surrounding healthcare professionals at the legislative level. The class of 2021 hopes to support that mission and see this fellowship further spread awareness of the issues providers face and the resources available.

The fellow will receive $10,000 to put their plans into action. This award gives them a platform to apply the skills they have learned in the program and show up as a leader contributing to a specific goal. Terri noted that the ability to make a real impact in the world will be an important benefit for the fellow. “This is not theoretical. The fellow and whomever they bring on board to support them can make an impact on what is both a personal problem at the individual level and a workforce problem at the industry level. How mental health shows up in the workplace is a very real issue and it is an opportunity for employers and leaders.” 

The fellow will be selected before the end of the fall 2021 semester and will work towards executing their final project before the end of the spring 2022 semester.

Through the Dr. Lorna Breen Healthcare Legacy Fellowship, the first and future fellows will support the legacy of the beloved Dr. Breen. With this opportunity also comes the potential to make a safer and more accepting industry for all involved. The class of 2021 is looking forward to seeing the positive changes that emerge from the fellowship for years to come.

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