OLYMPIA – A measure requiring certain health professionals in Washington state to complete training in suicide assessment, treatment, and management as part of their continuing education requirements passed the House Floor today with overwhelming support on a 92-5 vote. HB 2366, the Matt Adler Suicide Assessment, Treatment, & Management Act of 2012, is designed to enable health care professionals to better identify individuals at risk of suicide and perform prevention-related services.
Matt Adler, an attorney, husband and father of two, took his own life in February 2011 while in the midst of a battle with severe depression and an anxiety disorder. He was 40 years old. His family believes Matt would still be among us if early detection and competent care in the treatment of suicidal thoughts had been available to him.
“I have no doubt in my mind that Matt’s tragic loss could have been prevented with the right diagnosis and treatment,” said Rep. Tina Orwall, the bill’s prime sponsor. “Washington is in the top third in the nation in terms of suicide rates, and yet we do not have a comprehensive statewide suicide prevention plan that includes individuals of all ages.”
While Washington does have a statewide suicide prevention plan for youth that was created in 1995, due to funding restrictions many recommendations in that ambitious plan have yet to be addressed.
The Des Moines Democrat, who sits in the Joint Committee on Veterans' and Military Affairs, also said suicide is a growing problem in our military bases. “Last year 12 soldiers at Joint Base Lewis McChord took their own lives. That’s up from nine suicides in 2010. We have to do something to keep these statistics from escalating and this can’t wait; lives are at risk right now, as we speak.”
Under Orwall’s bill, certain licensed health professionals would be required to complete six hours of training in suicide assessment, treatment, and management every six years as a part of their continuing education requirements. Physicians would have to complete the training every 8 years.
“Health professionals are licensed by the state with the expectation they will protect the public, but we’ve been falling short of that goal when it comes to suicide,” said Orwall. “With the development of training programs in suicide assessment, treatment, and management, Washington’s health professionals will be better able to meet the needs of our residents.”
Suicide is a major public health problem. In 2009, more than 36,000 people in the U.S. died by suicide; that’s the equivalent of one major airliner filled with passengers crashing every two days.
“When you tell the average person that you can’t be assured that their health care professional knows what to do if someone is suicidal, they are shocked. This is a failure of our health care system,” said Jennifer Stuber, Matt Adler’s widow.
Washington state has a suicide rate that is higher than the national average. Youth, veterans, and older adults are at particularly high risk of suicide. In King County, the Medical Examiner investigated 253 suicides in 2009, the highest number in seven years.
This piece of legislation will ensure suicide assessment, treatment, and management becomes a core competency of continuing education for medical professionals.
Orwall’s measure is headed to the Senate for further consideration.