Each year, Axis Health System successfully helps hundreds of people who have considered ending their own lives. We do this by helping people build resilience along with long-term connections and strengths. We move patients from the pain of despair to engagement in a fuller, more hopeful life.
Despite our best efforts, AHS has lost some patients to suicide death. Every single life matters. That’s why we recently adopted the statewide Zero Suicide Program. It provides a model for reducing suicide deaths for patients in our care.
Zero Suicide includes a specific set of tools and strategies. It is both a concept and a practice. Its core positions are that suicide deaths for people under care can be prevented, and that the bold goal of zero suicides among people receiving care is a challenge that health systems need to accept. Zero Suicide represents a commitment to patient safety – the most fundamental responsibility of health care. It also seeks to better support and equip clinical staff, who do the demanding work of treating and supporting suicidal patients.
The challenge of Zero Suicide is not focused solely on those who provide clinical care. The program relies on a system-wide approach to improve outcomes and close gaps – not just on the heroic efforts of individual practitioners. This initiative in health care systems also requires the engagement of the broader community, especially suicide attempt survivors, family members, policymakers and researchers.
In addition to Zero Suicide, AHS has other established programs for crisis care in Southwest Colorado. For many years, we have had a well-trained crisis team and a crisis line staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
In the past two years, we have expanded our Mobile Crisis Team. We currently have two vehicles with EMTs as part of the team, which has been a successful innovation. Our crisis response is very effective. In the unfortunate case of a suicide death, AHS provides training, debriefing and other supports to the community.
AHS established the Crossroads Acute Treatment Unit 10 years ago as the sole inpatient psychiatric resource in the five counties of Southwest Colorado. This facility provides voluntary and involuntary crisis stabilization and treatment.
In 2016 from January through October, AHS therapists completed 1,037 crisis assessments, 480 followups and 438 interventions.
The Transitions Program provides assistance to patients discharged from the unit, actively supporting a successful re-entry to community life.
Mental Health First Aid is a full-day prevention course AHS provides that teaches community members how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Any community group may request this course, which can focus on either adults or youths.
AHS also was a founder of Crisis Intervention Training for law enforcement 13 years ago, and continues to support the program today. It provides tools to identify behavioral health issues and de-escalate crises without force. This program has graduated 275 law enforcement staff since 2003. A recently added AHS program, Senior Reach, provides outreach to the senior population, whose needs are often less visible.
These specific programs, along with other evidence-based practices, are geared to identify and treat high-risk patients effectively. The integration of health care at Cortez Integrated Healthcare, La Plata Integrated Healthcare, two school-based health centers and Archuleta Integrated Healthcare (opening in Pagosa Springs in May) gives us the capability to identify suicide risk much earlier, and makes it easier to seek help.
When it comes to suicide prevention, we’re not alone. There are many community partners working toward the same goal, such as La Plata Youth Services, Pediatric Partners, local school districts and many others. Together, we can make a difference and help save lives.
Pam Wise Romero, Ph.D., is the chief clinical officer at Axis Health System, a nonprofit that serves five counties at nine locations in Southwest Colorado. Call 335-2444 for information.