ENA Applauds Introduction of ED Suicide Screening Legislation in Congress

Press Release:

Amid a marked increase in suicide rates across the United States and its own research that shows more can be done to assess patients for suicidality in the emergency department, the Emergency Nurses Association on Tuesday offered strong support for new legislation introduced in Congress to improve suicide risk protocols that can help save lives.

The Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department Act would create a grant program within the Department of Health and Human Services that is focused on assisting EDs develop ways to better identify, assess and treat patients with signs of suicidality. The bill was introduced Monday by Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.

“Emergency departments are often the place where patients at risk for suicide go within our health care system,” said ENA President Patti Kunz Howard, PhD, RN, CEN, CPEN, TCRN, NE-BC, FAEN, FAAN. “Suicide screening is an essential component of ensuring patient safety. This legislation would create opportunities for more emergency departments to effectively screen, assess and treat high-risk patients.

“We thank Representatives Bilirakis and Engel for recognizing the urgent need to enhance the capabilities of emergency departments to address this growing national crisis,” Howard offered.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics cited by the National Institute for Mental Health, suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, claiming approximately 47,000 American lives each year. From 2001 to 2017, the U.S. suicide rate increased 31 percent.

In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing, ENA researchers identified a need for improvement in the identification of at-risk patients and that additional efforts to enhance suicide-risk assessment should include screening tools that are used continuously during a patients’ ED visit.

“These staggering statistics make it clear that we need improved methods for identifying and assessing the suicide risks of emergency department patients,” Bilirakis said. “As part of my long-term commitment to fixing our broken mental health care system, I want to be sure that we enhance the procedures surrounding the discharge of patients who have attempted suicide or exhibit suicidal ideation to maximize the likelihood that they obtain appropriate follow-up care.

“Our bill is the first step in making that happen. I appreciate the hard work of the Emergency Nurses Association on this important patient care issue and their support for this legislation,” he added.

The funding provided under this grant program can be used by hospitals to:

  • Provide training to emergency health care providers on identifying and treating high-risk patients
  • Establish policies and best practices for emergency departments to improve the identification, assessment and treatment of individuals who are at high risk of suicide, as well as developing best practices for coordination of care and discharge procedures for those patients
  • Hire behavioral health professionals who specialize in treatment of patients with suicidal ideation
  • Improve access to care for those at risk for suicide using telehealth and developing other approaches to reduce the boarding of patients in the ED

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