Success and Inspiration at the Zero Suicide Academy

July 07, 2014

News Type:  Director's Corner
Author:  Jerry Reed, PhD, MSW, SPRC Project Director, Education Development Center, Inc

From June 26-27, 2014, SPRC was honored to host the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s first Zero Suicide Academy. During this groundbreaking event, teams from 16 public and private health care organizations came together with experts in suicide prevention and health care, assessed the capacity of their organizations to deliver suicide care, and created work plans to deliver optimal suicide care and ultimately save lives among their patients. We were pleased that organizations participating in the Academy sent teams that included their leadership, CEOs, and Directors of Crisis Services. This level of participation represents a commitment to both patient safety and a system-wide approach to preventing people at risk for suicide from falling through the cracks.

The participants learned about and discussed innovative strategies that reduce suicide deaths among patients in boundaried health care systems. One such strategy is to implement a formal plan to reach out to patients who have been identified as being at risk for suicide and have missed a follow-up appointment. In some organizations, such patients are called or visited by staff or through established relationships with crisis lines to make sure that they return for their follow-up care and remain on the path to recovery and resilience. This strategy can include soliciting, during the first session with a client, the names and telephone numbers of friends and family members who can be mobilized to ensure that the patient returns for follow-up care.  Discussions about safety can be introduced as early as the first session to let all patients know that patient safety is the organization’s priority.

Health care systems can also ensure that their clinicians are trained in evidence-based practices that are effective at preventing suicide. For example, in the past, it was thought that the way to reduce risk for patients presenting with suicidal ideation was to treat the underlying mental illness. We now know that it is also important to treat the ideation directly.

The Academy featured other examples of changes in practice and policy that can help protect patients. We should involve family members in safety planning so that the entire responsibility for safety does not fall upon the patient. Other changes can assist with improving care and outcomes for patients who are at risk of suicide. For example, an electronic health record that has a clinical workflow built in that includes identification and management of suicide risk would help ensure that clinical practices are consistent across all staff and all patients. This practice can help patients at risk to be seen in a timely and effective manner, with their progress tracked.

I am confident that participants left the Academy with a new understanding of how they can make changes in policies and procedures to prevent suicide and save lives, just as changes in policies and procedures have markedly reduced wrong-side surgery and infections transmitted in health care settings. The enthusiasm that the teams and the faculty brought to this meeting was inspirational. We look forward to their continued efforts to create health care settings in which suicide is a “never event” and to support two important goals of the 2012 National Strategy to Prevent Suicide: Goal 8 – Promote suicide prevention as a core component of health care services and Goal 9 – Promote and implement effective clinical and professional practices for assessing and treating those identified as being at risk for suicidal behaviors.

I encourage all of you to take a look at the Action Alliance Zero Suicide in Health and Behavioral Health Care website for more information about the Zero Suicide Academy, the Zero Suicide framework and how it can help you save lives, and valuable resources including a toolkit, eLearning workshops, and videos of Zero Suicide champions speaking about this important new concept.