New screening questions at MHSC to help identify risk and prevent suicide

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Left to right: Crystal Hamblin, RN/MHSC Suicide Prevention Team; Nancy McGee, DNP,PMHNP-BC at UW. Pictures courtesy of Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County.

ROCK SPRINGS, WYOMING (January 13, 2020) — The healthcare providers at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County have implemented a new set of screening questions to help identify risk and prevent suicide.

 

If you’re coming to the hospital for inpatient care, you may be asked some sensitive questions from the Columbia Suicide Severity Risk Scale (C-SSRS), part of The Columbia Lighthouse Project protocol.

Hospital staff began working to implement the process over the summer. It went into effect in October, said Crystal Hamblin, a registered nurse who is part of MHSC’s suicide prevention team. Patients may be asked similar questions by providers in any of the Specialty Clinics or clinics nationwide.

“When you come to the hospital, we may be asking you some sensitive questions,” Hamblin said.

If the answer to any or all of those questions is “yes,” there is a conversation and a series of questions that will follow. The overall assessment helps determine what next steps should be taken in order to keep the patient safe while healthcare providers determine the patient’s risk factors.

“We’re not targeting you. We’re not judging you,” Hamblin said. “We want you to know this is a safe place, and we don’t want you to harm yourself. We want to help.”

The suicide rate in Wyoming is high. It has ranked among the top six nationwide from 1994 to 2017, said Nancy McGee, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Wyoming. In 2017, Wyoming ranked second in the nation.

Statewide, Sweetwater County has the third-highest rate of suicide in Wyoming, behind Hot Springs and Natrona, she told a group of Sweetwater County healthcare professionals during recent training. Wyoming’s suicide rate continues to increase and remain ahead of the national average.

Rates of depression have steadily increased over the past decade, as have involuntary hospitalizations, McGee said.

Healthcare professionals are continuing to try to get a handle on prevention and reversing the trend.

In the United States, primary care settings are the No. 1 source for mental health treatment, McGee said. It is often the only source for mental health treatment. In fact, 70 percent of visits to primary care physicians are for mental health concerns.

“It is important to create an environment that is safe,” McGee said. “It is important to empathize and normalize anxiety and pain.

“We are good at talking about things … like STDs and hemorrhoids. This should be no different,” she said. “Use the word suicide.”

Talk about it.

 

It is the hope of the Sweetwater Memorial suicide prevention team that by implementing C-SSRS questions, the number of suicides will decrease.

“There are a lot of myths surrounding suicide,” Hamblin said. “One of them is that we shouldn’t be talking about it.

“It’s important to talk about it so you can understand a person’s mindset and their intentions,” she said. “Asking the tough questions can connect people to the help they need.”

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MHSC is a non-profit, 99-bed, regional acute-care facility in southwestern Wyoming. The hospital has more than 500 employees, including more than 30 employed physicians providing care in more than two dozen specialty fields. MHSC offers care in ENT/Otolaryngology, Family Medicine, General Surgery, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Pulmonology, Nephrology, Obstetrics and Women’s Health, Oncology, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, and Urology. Services include Medical Imaging, Cardiac Rehabilitation, Cardiopulmonary, Diabetes Education, Dialysis, Emergency Care, Intensive Care, Laboratory Services, Medical and Surgical Unit, Nutrition Therapy, Rehabilitation, and Sleep Disorder Lab. Through its affiliation with University of Utah Health, dermatology, cardiology, vascular and maternal-fetal medicine services are offered. Sweetwater Regional Cancer Center is an affiliate partner of the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute.