Zeroing in on suicide

The Institute of Living is taking the lead on introducing the Zero Suicide prevention program to organizations across Hartford HealthCare and statewide, raising awareness of the opportunities people have to help prevent others from taking their lives.

“It’s a very exciting initiative, and we’re very proud to be playing a leading role here in Connecticut,” said IOL Medical Director Linda Durst, MD.

The IOL was one of a handful of behavioral health centers across the country to be invited to the National Zero Suicide Academy in 2015. The team of experts who attended included Dr. Durst and other IOL leaders including Nursing Director Ellen Blair, APRN; Director of Outpatient and Rehabilitative Services Nancy Hubbard; IOL Mental Health First Aid Coordinator Patricia Graham; as well as Andrea Duarte from the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Dr. Durst said the philosophy of the Zero Suicide program is to work as much as possible toward eliminating suicides altogether from behavioral health institutions, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. While the zero goal might not be attainable, she said, the number of suicides can be greatly reduced if people work collaboratively toward it.

The program urges healthcare leaders to identify and close gaps in patient care when people are more likely to commit suicide, including discharges from emergency departments and inpatient settings and transitions from inpatient to outpatient care.

At the IOL, new processes are being introduced to help close those gaps, including a newly adopted program in which patients receive regular follow up phone calls after they are discharged. Plans are also underway to identify potentially vulnerable patients through notations on the newly created electronic medical record system (EPIC) at the IOL, which would serve to flag the patients for follow up calls to check on their well-being. Patients who miss appointments would also receive follow up calls.

Dr. Durst said the program has been embraced across the IOL, where staff members have received training on conducting assessments and leadership has made it a priority on its list of annual goals.  Over the course of the next year, she added, the IOL will play a leading role in sharing the Zero Suicide philosophy with other organizations within the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network and across all of Hartford HealthCare.

  • “It’s a very exciting initiative, and we’re very proud to be playing a leading role here in Connecticut,”

    - Linda Durst, MD, IOL Medical Director

Another sign of the IOL’s commitment to suicide prevention is the annual symposium and flag-lowering ceremony held during World Suicide Prevention Week. The symposium in September 2016 was entitled “Suicide Assessment and Prevention: New Solutions to Old Problems,” which took place at the Educational Resource Center at Hartford Hospital. The keynote speaker was Shawn C. Shea, MD, Director of the Training Institute for Suicide Assessment and Clinical Interviewing, who gave two presentations, the first focusing on how suicide can be understood through a powerful planning model called Matrix Treatment Planning, and the second focusing on the importance of understanding and delineating nuances in assessing risk and protective factors.

Participants took a break in the middle of the symposium to gather for a flag-lowering ceremony in front of the entrance to Hartford Hospital, where IOL Psychiatrist-in-Chief Harold I. (Hank) Schwartz, MD, spoke on the importance of being vigilant and compassionate in the effort to prevent suicide. Several of those in attendance were people who have lost loved ones to suicide.