Soto, Bilirakis, Murkowski, King Re-Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Help Curb Suicides

February 25, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Representatives Darren Soto (D-FL) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) joined Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Angus King (ME) in reintroducing the bipartisan Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department Act, which would create a voluntary grant program to assist emergency departments in developing protocols for identifying, assessing and treating individuals at risk for suicide.

“The mental health crisis has exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rep. Soto. “I am proud to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to provide emergency departments with the funds they need to better assess and treat patients at higher risk of suicide. We must support our mental health care system and make sure individuals receive the care they need.”

“These staggering statistics make it clear that we need improved methods for identifying and assessing the suicide risks of emergency department patients,” said Rep. Bilirakis. “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.  I hope that my Senate colleagues will now expedite its passage so that it can begin saving lives.”

I’m proud to once again support legislation to improve emergency department mental health screening, assessment, and treatment for individuals at risk of suicide, providing support to those in the emergency room who are often the first line of defense when it comes to suicide prevention. Screening programs are a safe and effective component of suicide prevention efforts, meaning this legislation is an opportunity to help save more lives. At a time when suicide rates have increased across the country, the pressing need for improving the suicide prevention capabilities of our emergency departments has never been more critical,” said Senator Murkowski.

Each year, we lose hundreds of Maine people to suicides who leave behind shattered families – and as the pandemic has heightened anxiety and deepened isolation, communities across the nation have seen suicide rates increase,” said Senator King. “We must do everything in our power to confront this health crisis, and prevent these devastating tragedies. That starts with proactively engaging with at-risk people, and giving medical and emergency personnel the tools and training they need to support those in need. We need to work together, and ensure that everyone who is struggling is able to get help.”

“Far too many Americans have been devastated by the loss of a family member or friend to suicide. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we know the mental health issues plaguing our society have increased – and the fear is that they will continue to worsen in the future. Through it all, emergency departments stand in a unique position to identify and help millions of patients at risk for suicide each year,” said ENA President Ron Kraus, MSN, RN, EMT, CEN, ACNS-BC, TCRN. “This important legislation will enhance the capabilities of emergency departments to effectively screen and care for these high-risk patients. We would like to thank Representatives Bilirakis and Soto and Senators Murkowski and King for recognizing the urgent need to address this growing national crisis and their leadership on this issue.”

Since 2001, the suicide rate in the United States has risen by a shocking 31%, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the nation, with an estimated 47,000 lives lost each year.  The problem has only been exacerbated throughout the pandemic as Americans grapple with the pressures of economic uncertainty, job loss and medical needs. This proactive approach is vital because emergency departments are often the first, and sadly too often, the only point of contact within the healthcare system for those most at risk for suicide, such as those with severe mental health conditions or substance use disorders.  A 2016 study found that 11% of all emergency department patients exhibited suicidal ideation.  However, only 3% of those patients were diagnosed by current screening tools.  Additionally, statistics show that up to 70% of patients who leave the emergency department after a suicide attempt never attend their first outpatient follow-up appointment. 

 

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