By GARRETT NEESE
Houghton Daily Mining Gazette
HANCOCK - People from various local groups met Thursday to find out ways to help prevent suicides.
Sandra McGovern, Marquette General Hospital’s clinical director for inpatient psychiatric services, presents a suicide prevention plan at the Copper Country Intermediate School District. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by Garrett Neese)
Dial Help hosted a suicide prevention webcast and community planning event at the Copper Country Intermediate School District building in Hancock. The event began the 75-day lead-up to National Suicide Awareness Day on Sept. 10.
Speaking at the CCISD was Sandra McGovern, clinical director for inpatient psychiatric services at Marquette General Hospital. She presented a suicide prevention plan she is helping develop for Marquette County for her doctoral dissertation.
It's a larger undertaking than she thought when she started.
"It really is big, and it really is - not difficult, because everybody wants to collaborate, but it's hard to get everyone in the room at the same time," she said.
And a plan is needed, she said. Suicide is the 10th-biggest cause of death in Michigan. They're even more prevalent in the Upper Peninsula - 17.1 per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2009, 48 percent higher than the rest of the state.
The first step in the plan was a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. The breadth of the regional health system was a plus, as is LifePoint's expansion to smaller hospitals throughout the U.P, as well as community member support. However, there is still limited access to treatment, followup care and referrals; there are only 56 psychiatric beds in the Upper Peninsula. Primary care providers also lack confidence in dealing with suicide.
"They're afraid to ask about suicide," McGovern said. "They don't feel they're trained in it."
Other goals are to increase staff and physician awareness of suicide and decreasing delays in treatment of depression and suicide risk. But there are still threats such as funding cuts to mental health, the continued high unemployment rate and the high percentage of gun ownership in the U.P.
One step would be a Nurse Practice Act, which would allow Blue Cross/Blue Shield to pay for referrals to nurse practitioners. Legislation is in the state House of Representatives, McGovern said.
"This is something we really need to work on for our rural communities," she said.
McGovern said she would like to see Marquette County enact the strategic plan by January 2015, and have the plan accepted U.P.-wide by that December.
McGovern was preceded by the two-hour webcast "Everyone Plays a Role in Suicide Prevention: Turning Strategy into Action," broadcast from Chicago. That included a range of experts on topics such as suicide counseling in the military and among Native American populations.
Attendees at the event said it was useful.
"It was excellent," said Barbara McLean, a counselor who is an independent contractor at Dial Help. "All kinds of up-to-date and evidence-based information, and also on the leading edge," she aid. And also the fabulous variety of experts who have been in the trenches. My only disappointment, really, was we didn't have more people from the schools and other agencies, because this is so important."
Chris Walkons, a student at Michigan Technological University, came because he is interested in volunteering.
"I've never been involved in anything like this before, so it was a good way of getting some introductory information about the topic and getting some information about preliminary ways of being able to address this problem," he said.