Washington County receives federal funding for Zero Suicide

Published 09/10/2018

Sue Orban, South County Health Bodies Healthy MindsWashington, DC – Monday, at Harvest Acres Farm in Richmond, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Representative Jim Langevin, and Rhode Island Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, announced $2 million in federal funding for South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds’ Zero Suicide in Washington County program.  The funding will help establish a wide-ranging program for healthcare providers across the region to screen for the warning signs of suicide and provide vital services to further assess and care for those at risk of suicide. 

“We can mount this program in South County because of the strength of South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, a collaboration of health care providers, the school systems, URI, our community action agency, business partners and many other social service agencies,” said Lou Giancola, President and CEO of South County Health.

“This initiative is a comprehensive approach that has brought in advocates and family members who have been impacted by suicide to bring help, hope, and light to those in need who are going through a dark time.  The more people are aware, the sooner they can recognize the signs and connect to the right assistance,” said Senator Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, who co-authored a 40 percent increase in funding for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to provide more suicide prevention resources in the FY2019 Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-H) Appropriations bill.

“Making sure health care professionals have the training and resources to lend care and support to those fighting depression and thoughts of suicide will go a long way toward getting us to zero suicides,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “I’m thrilled to see this funding come to South County to save lives and help Rhode Islanders lead healthier, happier lives.”

“South County Health’s Zero Suicide in Washington County program will use a holistic approach to raise awareness, improve care coordination and overcome the stigma that prevents too many people from seeking help,” said Congressman Langevin.  “Suicide is preventable, and we need to do all we can to save these lives.  I was proud to offer my support for this $2 million federal grant award, and I’m confident that continued collaboration will reduce suicides in Washington County and across the state.”

Washington County has the highest rate of suicide in Rhode Island.  To combat this problem, South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds – one of the state’s ten Health Equity Zones – will use the $2 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to improve mental health care with the goal of eliminating suicides, hence the name “Zero Suicide.”  

The program will include all major healthcare institutions in Washington County.  It will set up a countywide leadership team with representatives from participating healthcare organizations and suicide survivors and/or family members.  The program will train all staff at health care facilities, provide timely services, coordinate outreach to patients in need, and conduct routine reviews of suicide attempts to identify trends or opportunities for future prevention efforts.

“Zero Suicide is both a system and a culture change; it is also the most effective program proven to drastically reduce suicides in health care systems,” noted Dr. Robert Harrison, Project Director for the initiative.  “Yale New Haven Health/Westerly Hospital is proud to collaborate with South County Health and every other major healthcare organization in the region to prevent the most preventable death—suicide—in Washington County.”

Of people who die by suicide, 30 percent had recent contact with mental health providers, 45 percent – including 70 percent among older men – had recent contact with primary care providers, and 10 percent visited an emergency department.  That is why the World Health Organization recommends that “health-care services need to incorporate suicide prevention as a core component.”