Program Trains Health Care Providers to Spot Risks for Suicide

Sep 12, 2018


September 10-16, 2018 is National Suicide Prevention Week in the United States. 

WCAI Morning Edition Producer Hayley Fager spoke with Heidi Nelson, Chief Executive Officer at Duffy Health Center, about a program on the Cape that uses data systems to prevent suicide

Fager: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Heidi.

Nelson: It's my pleasure.

Fager: This summer, Duffy Health Center, here on the Cape, was awarded a partnership grant to implement a national initiative called Zero Suicide. Can you tell us about that program?

Nelson: So, a lot of times, when we're trying to address a public health problem, we start off by saying, "Well, doctors need to do this differently," or, "Nurses need to do this differently." Zero Suicide takes a different approach. It doesn't focus on the lack of effort by different actors in the health care system, but it creates systems so that people don't fall through the cracks.

For example, we ask our behavioral health providers our therapists and our psychiatrists to go through their caseload and identify people that they believe may be at risk for suicide. And, we make panels, or lists of patients that may have those characteristics, but we also look at our data.

We have a meeting every morning at Duffy Health Center called, "The Huddle' where all the providers get together and talk about who's coming in that day, and what are some of the things that we need to remember when we're taking care of that patient that particular day.

So, in scribing the notes for that meeting, people are also identified as having been in the hospital or having been in the emergency room perhaps for an attempted suicide, or for speaking about taking their own lives. And, so we cross-matched that list with the list of people that were identified by our staff and have found sort of this group of people that we're concerned about.

So, because we have an electronic record, we can flag or highlight those individuals and make sure that when they come in, that we're paying particular attention to any kind of language around suicide, depression, anxiety, money worries--all of those different things that feed into suicide.

Fager: And, why implement this program on the Cape, in particular?

Nelson: In Massachusetts, we have a relatively low suicide rate compared to other states. We rank 48 out of 50, which is good, but our rate of suicide has increased by 35 percent over the past 15 years. And, in this country, more people die by committing suicide annually than the number of people who die in car accidents. So, we need to talk about it and create a system within our healthcare system, and within our public health system, to prevent this disease.

Fager: Heidi, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.