Collaboration and Community Engagement Key to Saving Lives

Chelsie Smith, RN, BSN, Public Health Nurse
Eau Claire City-County (WI) Health Department, Wisconsin

With funding from NACCHO’s Medical Reserve Corp (MRC) Challenge Award program, Eau Claire City-County Health Department and the Eau Claire County Medical Reserve Corps are hosting trainings to help prevent one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States: suicide.

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Paul Quinnett, PhD, Founder and CEO of the QPR Institute in Spokane, WA, developed QPR. QPR helps trainees recognize the warning signs of suicide and provides tools for intervention. The Eau Claire City-County Health Department and the local MRC unit brought this training to their community due to a rising rate of suicide and concern among community members. Total deaths by suicide in Eau Claire City-County are rising, with 14 deaths in 2012 and 18 in 2014. While adult males are primarily at risk, the youth population in the community is also a population of concern. A 2011 Parents’ Resource Institute for Drug Education survey conducted among 10th and 12th grade students in Eau Claire County high schools revealed that one in six of these students considered suicide “sometimes,” “often,” or “a lot.” The number of self-inflicted injuries has also increased in Eau Claire County and has exceeded the state of Wisconsin’s rate since 2000. The last two community health assessments identified mental health as a top concern in the last three years.

The short-term goal of the Saving Lives: One QPR at a Time is to train 2,000 members of the Eau Claire City-County community. The long-term goal of the program is to reduce the incidence of suicide in Eau Claire City-County within five to 10 years. Eighteen volunteers from the MRC unit and the Eau Claire Healthy Communities Mental Health Action Team completed the QPR Instructor Certification Program to learn how to teach the QPR curriculum. The program’s target audience is everyone, since anyone can be at risk for suicide. Volunteers have led trainings in grocery stores, hospice centers, and hospitals. Collaboration with the Hospital Sisters Health System Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s Hospital and Mayo Clinic Health Systems brought the training to schools in the area to help specifically reach those that work with adolescents. Since the project began in May 2015, Eau Claire City-County Health Department has trained 796 people. The department plans to assess the success of the program’s long-term goal by analyzing the vital records for the county.

The community was receptive to the training. Positive reactions to trainings included the following comments:

“This was one of the most helpful in-services I have been to! Any action may save a life, but no action most likely will lose one.”

“This is such a critically important topic and training. I’m grateful to have been able to participate. Thanks.”

“Let this be the spring board and not the end—keep the discussion going!”

Trainers also reported receiving increased interest from participants on reducing stigma towards mental health in the community.

To successfully bring this intervention to your community, we recommend making sure your target community is receptive to discussions around mental health. Collaboration with other organizations such as local hospitals and gathering and sharing success stories from other communities is also critical to the program’s success. Additionally, continually engaging with your volunteers will improve their commitment to the program and their creativity when giving the training.

Eau Claire City-County will continue to provide trainings in the community and looks forward to helping save lives and decreasing stigma towards mental illness.

Learn more about NACCHO’s MRC Challenge Awards at http://nacchopreparedness.org/naccho-funds-167-innovative-community-projects-through-mrc-challenge-awards/.

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