Albany Lauds Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Steps

The Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition on Tuesday took concrete steps toward the adoption of the Zero Suicide Model for local suicide prevention, including the formation of a committee to coordinate future planning. Meanwhile, New York state officials hailed the “extraordinary progress” recently achieved in the county’s suicide prevention efforts.

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Sharon MacDougall leads a subgroup of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition

The coalition, holding its third meeting since the body was established last July, also made further progress on the development of a strategic plan to guide suicide prevention policies and practices in the community.

Sharon MacDougall, deputy mental health commissioner and coalition convener, announced the coalition’s decision to establish a five-member committee to coordinate discussion, collaboration, and possible implementation of the Zero Suicide Model. She also reported the coalition’s agreement to host a briefing on the model for the Tompkins County community at large in June.

The committee members are: Lee-Ellen Marvin and Sheila McCue, Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Bev Chin, program director, Health Planning Council; Helen Kaplan, clinical director, Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County; and Sharon MacDougall, deputy mental health commissioner.

Scott MacLeod of The Sophie Fund presented a report to the coalition on the organization’s initiative to promote the Zero Suicide Model. MacLeod noted that The Sophie Fund, along with Ithaca’s Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, organized a four-hour expert briefing on Zero Suicide for Tompkins County’s senior healthcare leadership in October 2017 at The Statler Hotel.

MacLeod said that The Sophie Fund was encouraged by the generally positive responses it has received from all the Statler participants about committing their organizations to implementing the Zero Suicide Model and conducting an annual self-assessment study monitoring implementation.

According to MacLeod, David Evelyn, vice president for medical affairs at Cayuga Medical Center, stated to The Sophie Fund: “Cayuga Medical Center is committed to Zero Suicide and is currently studying what resources we need to implement. We are pursuing the self-assessment.”

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, MacDougall asked the coalition to observe a minute of silence in memory of Sophie Hack MacLeod, who died by suicide in Ithaca on March 26, 2016. Sophie was a fine arts student on a medical leave of absence from Cornell University at the time of her death. Her parents, Scott MacLeod and Susan Hack, established The Sophie Fund in 2016 to advocate for improved mental health for young people in Tompkins County.

In a related development, Jay Carruthers, director of the New York State Suicide Prevention Office, and Sigrid Pechenik, director of the Suicide Prevention Center of New York, applauded the “extraordinary progress” in suicide prevention in Tompkins County. They singled out several milestones, including the adoption of The Watershed Declaration, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s proclamation in support of suicide prevention, and the Tompkins County legislature’s designation of September as suicide prevention month.

The state officials also thanked The Sophie Fund and the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service for their “leadership and commitment to make Tompkins County a suicide safer care community.”

In a letter to The Sophie Fund and the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, they added: “We consider Tompkins County and its newly formed Suicide Prevention Coalition an exemplary testament to vision, dedication and mobilization of community stakeholders. Thank you for your work, and we look forward to our continued partnership.”

The Zero Suicide Model, sometimes called the Suicide Safer Care Model, holds that suicides can be prevented by closing cracks in healthcare systems—that suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable.

Zero Suicide means making suicide prevention a core responsibility of healthcare. Specifically, this entails a systematic clinical approach in healthcare systems—training staff, screening for suicide ideation, utilizing evidence-based interventions, mandating continuous quality improvement, treating suicidality as a presenting problem—and not simply relying on the heroic efforts of crisis staff and individual clinicians.