AdventHealth is collaborating with the UCF to address a growing suicide crisis across the nation.

The effort is modeled after the Zero Suicide Initiative, a national program to reduce suicide deaths, which have risen dramatically in recent years. Rates of suicide have increased by more than 25 percent across the U.S. since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Florida, the rate of increase is more than 10 percent.

“How do we improve safety measures and practices? And how do we use outcome measures to track what we’re doing to improve suicide care?”

The program also addresses a need raised by the region’s annual Community Health Needs Assessment, which consistently finds access to mental-health treatment is lacking across Central Florida.

The UCF-AdventHealth collaboration will focus on patients who come into the emergency rooms at AdventHealth Kissimmee and AdventHealth Orlando exhibiting signs of suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Currently, those patients might be held in the ER for up to 12 hours waiting for a spot to become available in a psychiatric facility. Or they might be discharged back into the community, only to return to the ER in the following weeks.

If a patient shows warning signs for suicide, social workers will call and check in with them to monitor suicide risk, provide psychosocial education and support, and to make linkages to community supports on a regular basis for up to 90 days.

“The idea is to establish a relationship with the patient, so if the patient goes into an acute crisis, they have a point person who has a psychiatric background and clinical training in suicide prevention,” says Robert Geissler, director of emergency services at AdventHealth Kissimmee. “That point person can connect them with appropriate resources, rather than having them go back to the ER.”

In addition to the social-worker support, the program involves training ER staff and chaplains to recognize and treat patients who may be dealing with suicidal thoughts or feelings.

Kim Gryglewicz, associate professor of social work and interim director of the Center for Behavioral Health Research and Training, is leading the research effort in conjunction with the AdventHealth Research Institute.

“From a research perspective, we’re trying to answer two major questions: How do we improve safety measures and practices? And how do we use outcome measures to track what we’re doing to improve suicide care?” Gryglewicz says. “We will be working to implement best practices in the ED setting using a comprehensive strategy for screening, suicide risk assessment and safety planning, and then tracking what happens post-discharge, with the ultimate goal of preventing suicides and attempts from happening.”

In the long term, the same practices and procedures would be implemented at other sites throughout Central Florida, then statewide and nationally with other AdventHealth sites, Gryglewicz added.

Available data on young people shows similar support services allowed 80 percent to be discharged from follow-up care no longer at risk for suicide, with the remaining 20 percent needing follow-up care.

Gryglewicz expects that researchers might find similar benefits among adult patients after the 90-day program. She hopes to have preliminary data after about six months.