Steamboat Springs Suicide prevention advocates think a service being offered at Yampa Valley Medical Center could serve as a model for hospitals throughout Colorado.
Since December, trained volunteers with Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide have been on call at all hours to help people who come to the emergency room and are at risk of harming themselves.
“We’re hoping that this is going to become a template for other places across the state because we do think it makes a difference,” REPS Executive Director Ronna Autrey said.
Since the Suicide Prevention Advocates program started, the number of volunteers has grown from five to 12, and the program has been a resource to 22 patients at YVMC. None of those patients have returned to the emergency room, Autrey said.
“We see that as a great measure of success, which means they’re working on their problems and trying to get help,” she said.
The idea for the program grew from a discussion that Autrey had during the inaugural Yampa Valley Wellness Conference in September 2011 in Steamboat Springs. The free mental health conference is being held again this year from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 29 at Sheraton Steamboat Resort.
By talking with Autrey at the conference, administrators at YVMC helped come up with a plan to better serve patients who come to the emergency room because they had a suicidal event or because they know they need help.
YVMC worked with Autrey to set up the framework and logistics for the program.
“It was kind of a collective approach of how our community can help us with patients that are at risk for suicide,” said Paula Golden, YVMC’s director of emergency and trauma services.
Once immediate medical situations are addressed, patients who are determined to be appropriate candidates are offered the opportunity to visit with a suicide prevention advocate, who can help keep watch over the patient.
“It allows our staff a little more freedom because there is someone else in the room,” Golden said.
YVMC Chief Nursing Officer Marie Timlin said the REPS volunteers are a valuable resource because they are trained to talk with people about suicide. Admittedly, some YVMC staff members might be hesitant to have that same discussion, Timlin said.
Autrey said the volunteers work to develop a relationship with the patient that hopefully will continue once they leave the hospital.
“In the weeks to come, we can follow up and say, ‘We care, and we can help,'” Autrey said.
She said they can help patients get the help they need once they leave the hospital and offer moral support with phone calls and emails. REPS also has resources available to help people with money for doctors, medication and counseling.
YVMC officials and Autrey next envision the program being expanded and made available to inpatients, or those who are admitted and spending the night at the hospital.
“We would all like to see that happen, my volunteers included,” Autrey said. “We’re always looking for new volunteers.”
Autrey said that she is not aware of any similar program being offered in Colorado but that she has been invited to speak about it next month with state officials.
The month of September is National Suicide Awareness Month, and next week is Suicide Awareness Week.
Speakers at the Sept. 29 wellness conference include author and survivor Kevin Hines, Betty Ford Clinic Physician Director Dr. Harry L. Haroutunian and professor of psychiatry at University of Utah School of Medicine Dr. Perry F. Renshaw.
Registration for the conference is required and can be completed at www.blacktie-colorado.com.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com