Washington, D.C. – March 16, 2021 – For Immediate Release – The Association of Clinicians for the Underserved (ACU) in collaboration with Concert Health recently completed the third year in the largest effort in history to train primary care providers in suicide prevention—the Suicide Safer Care (SSC) program. Made possible by the generous support of the Centene Corporation, the Suicide Safer Care initiative delivered 35 trainings to 1,704 participants in 16 states in 2020 to help address the public health crisis of suicide.

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, and sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened this crisis. Nearly half of individuals who die by suicide visit a primary care provider in the month before their death, making primary care visits a crucial opportunity to assess risk and intervene. In 2020, ACU built upon its 2018-2019 SSC pilot program to deliver hands-on trainings to help primary care teams understand how to screen, assess risk, and intervene with patients at risk.

Findings Illuminate Scope of Crisis and Chances for Prevention

The project’s findings shed light on the enormity of the evolving epidemic of suicide. Surveys conducted among participants of the Suicide Safer Care training revealed that nearly half (44%) of providers had interacted at least once with a patient who ended his or her life by suicide, and nearly a quarter had done so more than once. Despite this growing prevalence, however, one in five providers had never received training on how to recognize warning signs that patients may be at elevated risk for suicide, and 32% lacked confidence in their ability to provide treatment to patients with suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

“The findings of the SSC participant surveys reveal and underscore the dire need for greater training to support suicide prevention in primary care,” said Amanda Pears Kelly, ACU Executive Director. “Now more than ever, we must incorporate suicide prevention practices into primary care to bridge the gaps necessary to save lives throughout our healthcare system. We’re proud to lead the SSC program and to have partnered with Concert Health and Centene to help address this epidemic.”

Evidence-Based Suicide Prevention in Primary Care Trainings to Help Save Lives

ACU’s Suicide Safer Care trainings instructed providers and healthcare team members—ranging from physicians and nurse practitioners to behavioral health clinicians and administrators—in hands-on strategies in evidence-based practices for suicide prevention in primary care. These strategies included but were not limited to screening with standardized tools such as the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, evidence-based interventions such as reducing access to lethal means and safety planning—and hope.

“These hands-on trainings really can help providers prevent suicides: they learn to care for patients at risk for suicide, using many of the skills and workflows they use for other chronic illnesses. In short, it makes Suicide Safer Care doable,” said Dr. Virna Little, Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder of Concert Health and a national authority on suicide who presented many of the trainings in partnership with ACU. “And part of what saves lives is giving people hope, and we are all capable, regardless of our licensure or background, of incorporating that in our practice.”

Responses from participating providers demonstrated tremendous gains in knowledge and level of comfort in assessing and caring for patients at risk of suicide after completing the training. Providers’ self-reported confidence in treating patients with suicidal thoughts or behaviors increased by 37% after the training, and their belief that they had the knowledge and skills to treat patients at elevated risk increased by 34%. This data adds further evidence to earlier findings that SSC trainings are effective in increasing the knowledge, skills, and confidence among primary care team members to meaningfully address suicide risk in primary care.

In addition to traditional SSC trainings, ACU hosted national webinars to address provider suicide risk and to help providers recognize suicide risks in patients during COVID-19.  As an additional resource, ACU also added new information on pediatric suicide prevention to its Suicide Safer Care toolkit. The expansion and reach of the 2020 SSC program were made possible in large part by the Centene Corporation, who provided both financial support as well as expanded reach by sharing trainings with their health plans.

“At Centene, we understand the importance of whole person health, and ensuring primary care providers have the tools they need to assess suicide risk and provide appropriate care is a key part of that focus,” said Brett Hart, Chief Behavioral Health Officer for Centene. “Centene and its health plans have been proud to support and promote this important training.”

Ongoing Work

In 2021, ACU and Concert Health will expand the Suicide Safer Care program to continue bridging gaps in providers’ comfort and understanding of how to identify and mitigate suicide risk. With continued support from Centene, the SSC initiative will develop clinical resources and deliver trainings specifically designed to address three new focal areas: suicide prevention and provider support during COVID-19, training for first responders to support suicide prevention, and pediatric suicide prevention.

About ACU

The Association of Clinicians for the Underserved is a uniquely transdisciplinary membership association uniting clinicians, advocates, and organizations in the shared mission to improve the health of America’s underserved populations and to support the clinicians serving them. ACU provides professional education, training and technical assistance, and clinical tools and programs to thousands of clinicians and organizations every year to improve health equity for the underserved. Founded in 1996 by members and alumni of the National Health Service Corps (NHSC), ACU is the leading voice of advocacy for the NHSC, and its collective community includes over 10,000 organizations, individuals, and advocates. To learn more about ACU, visit www.clinicians.org, like ACU on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.

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Rick Brown
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