The Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department Act of 2019 (S 3006) would amend the Public Health Service Act to create a grant program for improving emergency department (ED) services for patients at risk of suicide. The relevant section of the US Code addresses grant programs operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, such as the children’s asthma treatment grants program and the national diabetes prevention program.
The grants must be used for three purposes:
- To train ED healthcare professionals to evaluate and treat suicidal patients;
- To create policies and procedures for improving identification and treatment for suicidal patients; and
- To improve out-patient treatment and coordination of care upon discharge of a suicidal patient.
In addition to these required uses, there are four additional permissible uses of the grant money:
- To hire ED staff;
- To develop best practices for follow-up and long-term care;
- To make evidence-based treatment more accessible (e.g., establishing telehealth services); and
- To offer consultations and referrals to patients.
EDs play a critical role in identifying suicidal patients and providing them with acute mental health treatment, as well as deciding when to discharge patients and how best to proceed with outpatient treatment. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, up to 70% of patients discharged from an ED after a suicide attempt never show up to their first outpatient appointment. Furthermore, the risk of attempting or completing suicide is highest in the month after discharge from an ED or psychiatric unit. A 2019 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study found that the suicide risk for people who had visited an ED for deliberate self-harm was 57 times higher in the year after the visit than the risk for demographically similar individuals. These statistics indicate that ED visits present a key opportunity for mental health professionals to intervene and prevent suicides, and there is evidence that ED-level interventions can drastically reduce the long-term likelihood that a discharged patient will complete suicide.