Changing the stats
For nearly four decades, Montana has ranked among the worst five states in the nation for suicide.
It doesn’t have to stay that way.
In fact, local healthcare providers have a plan in place to help move Montana down that list. Thanks to Gov. Steve Bullock and the Montana Legislature, they now have the funding needed to make that launch possible.
A $107,000 grant has been awarded to the Billings Clinic to implement a suicide detection prevention program that will be used in the Stillwater Billings Clinic ER, as well as 10 other emergency rooms in eastern Montana.
The announcement was made at a packed press conference held Wednesday afternoon in the lobby of the Stillwater Billings Clinic. In attendance were nearly all local doctors, nurses and clinic staff. Gov. Bullock attended and spoke briefly, saying that the issue at hand “as a parent and as a governor, haunts me.”
Bullock requested — and was given — $1 million for suicide prevention programs from the state legislature.
“This grant will make a difference in what is becoming a foundational problem,” he said.
In a nutshell, the program is an evidence-based electronic screening tool that consists of all adult patients who seek emergency room care answering a short list of questions as part of a standardized screening process.
Through an algorithm, those answers produce a suicide risk level. A moderate or high score for likelihood of suicide will prompt an appropriate referral for at-risk identified patients.
Stillwater Billings Clinic Director of Community Health Services Natasha Sailer also spoke at the press conference and said research shows that a percentage of people who commit suicide have seen their doctor shortly before.
Sailer also said answering the questions takes about two minutes. She said the clinic hopes to eventually incorporate the program with minor patients.
Dr. Eric Arzubi, the chair of Psychiatry at Billings Clinic, who also took part in the press conference, said all the healthcare professionals are committed to tackling this momentous problem head-on and they knew they needed to think “outside the box” to find something that might start to make a difference.
The other 10 emergency departments that will be using the program are Beartooth Billings Clinic in Red Lodge, Livingston Healthcare, Central Montana Medical Center in Lewistown, Wheatland Memorial Healthcare in Harlowton, Glendive Medical Center, Sheridan Memorial Hospital in Plentywood, Daniels Memorial Hospital in Scobey, Roundup Memorial Hospital, Pioneer Medical Center in Big Timber and the Colstrip Medical Center.
Dr. Arzubi estimates that about 20,000 people are expected to be screened at these 11 facilities over the next year.