Senators Introduce Legislation to Help Prevent Suicide

Identifying Patients Sooner and Improving Follow Up Care

In an effort to curb the rising suicide rate in the country, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department Act of 2019. The legislation establishes a grant program to improve suicide screening and prevention practices in emergency departments with a focus on increasing identification, assessment, and treatment of patients who are at risk for suicide. Senators Gardner (R-CO) and King (I-ME) are original cosponsors of the bill. Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced companion legislation in the House.

“This bill addresses a prominent need – equipping Alaska emergency departments with the tools needed to assess for and treat suicidal patients, as well as strengthening connections to follow up care. As Alaska continues to face one of the highest rates of suicide in the country, additional resources dedicated to implementing suicide prevention programs in our emergency rooms can go a long way.  Programs that include assessments, treatment, and care coordination can make a tremendous impact in our state,” Senator Murkowski said. “Our hearts break for those thinking about suicide or seeking to take their own life, and it’s critical that we take every step we can to provide help before it is too late.”  

“On average, someone dies by suicide every 10 hours in Alabama. We need all hands on deck to save lives and confront this tragic epidemic. This bill will help hospital emergency rooms better identify people who are at risk for suicide and make sure they have the care they need after they are discharged from the hospital,” said Senator Jones.

“More than 50,000 visits to Colorado emergency rooms in the last three years were due to a mental health crisis,” said Senator Gardner. “Data shows that around 40 percent of people who die by suicide visited an emergency department in the year leading up to their death. This bipartisan legislation will help emergency department professionals identify and treat patients with a high risk of suicide, improving prevention. It will also help recruit behavioral health professionals and develop innovative solutions for suicide prevention, through tools like telehealth, which will help provide critical mental health support for rural and underserved areas.”

Click here for bill text.

Bill Details:

  • The bill authorizes $20 million for Fiscal Year 2020 through 2024 for the new grant program with preference given to critical access hospitals, sole community hospitals, tribally operated hospitals, or sites located in geographic areas with suicide rates higher than the national rate.
  • The grant funds shall be used:
    • To train emergency department health care professionals to identify, assess, and treat patients who are at risk of suicide;
    • To establish and implement policies and procedures for emergency departments to improve the identification, assessment and treatment of individuals who are at risk of suicide; and
    • To establish and implement policies and procedures with respect to care coordination, integrated care models, or referral to evidence-based treatment to be used upon the discharge from the emergency department of patients who are at risk of suicide.
  • Awarded recipients can also use the grants for the following purposes:
    • To hire emergency department psychiatrists, psychologists, nurse practitioners, counselors, therapists, or other licensed health care and behavioral health professionals specializing in the treatment of individuals at risk of suicide.
    • To develop and implement best practices for the follow-up care and long-term treatment of individuals who are at risk of suicide.
    • To increase the availability of and access to evidence-based treatment for individuals who are at risk of suicide, including through telehealth services and strategies to reduce the boarding of these patients in emergency departments.
    • To offer consultation with and referral to other supportive services that provide evidence-based treatment and recovery for individuals who are at risk of suicide.


  • Since 2001, the suicide rate in the United States has increased by over 31 percent. Suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death in the country. 
  • Success in screening and treating these patients in the emergency department and linking them to follow up care is limited. A 2016 study estimated that 11 percent of emergency department patients present with suicidal thoughts, yet only 3 percent were identified by screening. Further, the study showed that up to 70 percent of patients that leave the ED after a suicide attempt never attend their first outpatient appointment.

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