How hospitals are trying to prevent patient suicides

Minnesota hospitals make changes to rooms, bathrooms

Writing in the Star Tribune this week, Alejandra Matos explores the tactics Minnesota hospitals are using to prevent suicides, in light of hospitals experiencing the highest attempted suicide rate since the state began tracking such data in 2003.

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In the last year, four patients attempted to commit suicide in Minnesota hospitals—two occurred at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, and one each at United Hospital and Fairview Lakes Medical Center, according to the state health department.

"When there is more of something going on in the world, there is probably going to be more going on in hospitals or other health care settings," says Rachel Blake Jokela, an adverse-events specialist at the health department. The department hosted a special suicide-prevention training session for hospitals last May after the facilities requested help.

Dan Reidenberg—executive director of the suicide prevention organization SAVE—conducted the training session. He says that "there is no way to suicide-proof a hospital completely," but hospitals should take initiative instead of simply responding after an attempted suicide. "The goal is to say it's as safe as possible."

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Steps one hospital is taking to prevent patient self-harm

At the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Fairview, officials are constantly redesigning rooms in their psychiatric unit and encouraging staff to be vigilant to prevent more suicide attempts.

"Patients who are determined to harm themselves can do so by self-strangulation or by banging their heads on the floor or on a wall," says Kathy Knight, the hospital's president of behavioral sciences. She added that it is "very challenging to prevent suicide when there is a deep determination to die."

After determining that most of the four suicide attempts the hospital has seen since 2005 were concentrated in patient bathrooms, officials redesigned the bathrooms to discourage self-harm.

"There are no pinch points in the doors anymore. We have breakaway shower heads. The handles on the faucets are modified. We don't have door knobs," Knight says, adding there "isn't anything that we don't constantly look at" (Matos, Star Tribune, 12/2).


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