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Taking steps to prevent in-hospital suicide

Penn State Health began implementing new patient risk screening and assessment policies in late September to reduce the likelihood of in-patient suicide.

The revised policies at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center follow the lead of the Joint Commission, which updated its National Patient Safety Goal on suicide risk reduction last year based on new research and expert feedback.

“We designed our hospital policies to provide the highest level of safety by giving our clinicians evidence-based tools for screening and assessing at-risk patients,” said Cheryl Richardson, director of nursing quality and safety at Hershey Medical Center.

Notable changes include:

  • Updated guidelines on which patients require suicide risk screening
  • The use of two new validated screening tools – the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale for adults age 18 and older and the Ask Suicidal Questions Screening tool for pediatric patients ages 10 to 17
  • Implementation of an Environmental Risk Safety Checklist to identify and remove any items that patients could use for self-harm

The Hershey Medical Center policy, PC-54-HAM ― Suicide Risk Precautions, establishes new levels of suicide risk, with different interventions based upon those levels. The policy is now in effect.

At St. Joseph Medical Center, “We see all patients as high risk and have interventions defined based on that level,” said Sharon Strohecker, the hospital’s vice president of clinical services and chief nursing officer. The St. Joseph Medical Center policy is expected to go live soon. See it on St. Joseph’s Policy Manager site and search for “suicide.”

Suicide remains a growing health concern in Pennsylvania and nationwide. In a 2018 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that Pennsylvania’s suicide rate rose 34 percent from 1999 to 2016. The Joint Commission lists suicide as the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S.

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