Tompkins County Zero Suicide Steering Committee Gets to Work

Top local healthcare leaders on November 10 held the first meeting of the Tompkins County Zero Suicide Steering Committee to implement the suicide prevention model within and across healthcare systems serving the community. The meeting was attended by 17 healthcare leaders representing 11 provider organizations.

The leaders agreed to form the Steering Committee last July while participating in “Zero Suicide Roundtable: A Discussion on Best Practices in Suicide Prevention with Tompkins County Healthcare Leaders.” The roundtable was hosted at the Statler Hotel by The Sophie Fund and Tompkins County Mental Health Services.

Tompkins County healthcare leaders roundtable July 20, 2022

The creation of the Steering Committee is pursuant to Goal 2 of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition’s Three-Year Strategic Plan 2022-2025 adopted in February 2022. One of Goal 2’s objectives is to “form a Zero Suicide Work Group comprised of leading health and mental health providers to share ideas, experiences, and challenges, and lead collaborative, sustainable efforts to implement the Zero Suicide Model throughout Tompkins County.”

The Tompkins County Health Department provided a fellow, Zoe Lincoln, to serve as the Steering Committee coordinator to provide administrative, communications, and operational support. The Steering Committee agreed to regularly report back to the Coalition on its activities and results.

The Zero Suicide Model is an emerging standard designed to save lives by closing gaps in the suicide care offered by healthcare providers.

The model provides a practical framework for system-wide quality improvement in areas including training staff in current best practices, identifying at-risk individuals through comprehensive screening and assessment, and engaging at-risk patients with effective care management, evidence-based treatments, and safe care transition.

According to the Zero Suicide website, “The foundational belief of Zero Suicide is that suicide deaths for individuals under the care of health and behavioral health systems are preventable. Zero Suicide is based on the realization that people experiencing suicidal thoughts and urges often fall through the cracks in a sometimes fragmented and distracted healthcare system. Studies have shown the vast majority of people who died by suicide saw a healthcare provider in the year prior to their deaths. There is an opportunity for healthcare systems to make a real difference by transforming how patients are screened and the care they receive.”

READ more about the Zero Suicide Model in Tompkins County

At its inaugural meeting, Lincoln briefed the Steering Committee on suicide data, noting that suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans aged 10-34. Lincoln outlined initial steps to be taken by participating organizations, such as forming Zero Suicide implementation teams and conducting the organizational self study assessing their current state of suicide care.

“I am here because I am passionate about preventing the unnecessary losses of community members, friends, and family to suicide,” Lincoln said. “I believe this group is going to be a powerhouse for change and action across our county. We can all do our own actions and work on our own approaches in our organizations, but I really think the best work is going to come when we come together and work collegially.”

Speaking at the July roundtable, Harmony Ayers-Friedlander, deputy commissioner of Tompkins County Mental Health Services, said:

“Your presence here today serves as a reminder of just how important this work is. Zero Suicide works. Because it gives us hope that we can make a difference, direction through a systems-based framework when faced with the complexity of human suffering, and real tools that help us at each step of the way.”

Organizations agreeing to participate in the Steering Committee are:

Tompkins County Health Department

Cayuga Health

Guthrie Cortland Medical Center

Northeast Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine

Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca

MindWell LLC

Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County

Cayuga Addiction and Recovery Services (CARS)

The Reach Project, Inc.

Cornell Health, Cornell University

Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, Ithaca College

Health and Wellness Services, Tompkins Cortland Community College

Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.