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Bilirakis, Engel Want HHS Grants to Prevent Suicide

October 30, 2019 - 6:00am
Gus Bilirakis and Eliot Engel
Gus Bilirakis and Eliot Engel

A Florida Republican is teaming with a top New York Democrat on Capitol Hill to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to do more to cut down on the growing number of suicides across the nation. 

This week, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-NY, teamed up on the “Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department Act.” The bill would have HHS create a five-year program for hospitals to better prepare their emergency departments to identify, assess and treat individuals at risk for suicide. 

Bilirakis introduced the bill on Monday. 

“Since 2001, the suicide rate in the United States has risen by a shocking 31 percent, making suicide the tenth leading cause of death in the nation, with an estimated 47,000 lives lost each year,” Bilirakis’ office noted, adding the grants are “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.” 

Bilirakis pointed to a 2016 study which showed 11 percent of emergency department patients showed suicidal tendencies and “only 3 percent of those patients were diagnosed by current screening tools.”  He also noted “statistics show that up to 70 percent of patients who leave the emergency department after a suicide attempt never attend their first outpatient follow-up appointment.” 

“These staggering statistics make it clear that we need improved methods for identifying and assessing the suicide risks of emergency department patients,” Bilirakis said. “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.”

 “The rising rates of suicides in the United States is a public health emergency that deserves immediate congressional action,” said Engel who chairs the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. “In my home state of New York, suicide rates have increased by nearly 30 percent since 2000. I am pleased to join Congressman Bilirakis on this important, bipartisan legislation which will leverage the skills of nurses and emergency departments professionals, who are trained in identifying and treating at-risk individuals, to help end this crisis and save lives.”

The Emergency Nurses Association is backing the bill. 

“Emergency departments are often the place where patients go within our health care system that provides care for patients at risk for suicide, such as those with severe behavioral health conditions or substance use disorders,” said ENA President Patti Kunz Howard. “Suicide screening is an essential component of ensuring patient safety. This legislation would create opportunities for more emergency departments to effectively screen, assess and treat high-risk patients.  We thank Representatives Bilirakis and Engel for recognizing the urgent need to enhance the capabilities of emergency departments to address this growing national crisis.”

The bill was sent to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday. So far, there is no companion bill in the U.S. Senate 

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