URI Health Services partners with South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds for zero suicides in Washington County

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862 |

KINGSTON, R.I.- February 11, 2019- University of Rhode Island Health Services is partnering with South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, which has been awarded a $2 million grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to transform the local health care delivery system and achieve zero suicides in Washington County.

At 10.1 out of 100,000, Washington County, which is comprised of Charlestown, Exeter, Hopkinton, Narragansett, New Shoreham, North Kingstown, Richmond, South Kingstown and Westerly, has the highest suicide rate in Rhode Island.

To provide health care services that incorporate suicide prevention efforts, the grant calls for a five-year plan to achieve zero suicides in South County.

In its first year, collaborators formed a leadership team and plan to expand efforts to Westerly and South County Hospital Emergency Departments. Expansion of the practices to prevent suicide will be expanded to other local health care providers over the course of the next two years. In year 4, the remaining community health care centers, including URI Health Services, will implement universal screening of patients using the PHQ-9 method.

The Patient Health Questionnaire, which poses up to nine questions, is a widely used method to screen for, diagnose, monitor and measure depression. The questionnaire poses two questions and depending on the answer, may provide the patient with seven more to assess their mental health. Depending on the result, health care providers would connect patients with timely access to clinical services for further assessment and safety care management.

URI Director of Health Services Ellen Reynolds serves on the leadership committee whose members are putting the initiative in place.

“I am so thankful to be partnered with the Healthy Bodies/Healthy Minds Zero Suicide Grant because one suicide in the URI community and surrounding towns is too many,” said Reynolds. “I believe with training, identification and additional resources, preventing suicide is possible and is something we aspire to achieve.”

Through the implementation of seven elements, zero suicide efforts start by creating a strong leadership team and move into the training of a competent, caring and confident workforce. The next elements involve the systematic identification and assessment of suicide risk among people receiving care and then engages them in a suicide management plan that involves a timely pathway to care. Then, using evidence-based treatments, patients can transition to receiving continuous contact and support with the eventual goal of improving care.

“Partnering with URI is important to our mission of reducing suicides in Washington County because many young adults are stressed and without their usual support systems while at school,” said Dr. Rob Harrison, Washington County Zero Suicide program director. “The number of veterans at URI is also increasing and it is important to note that nationally, 23 veterans take their lives every day as their escape from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.”

Harrison says that 90 percent of mental health challenges are treatable and the same number of people that contemplate suicide have a diagnosable mental health problem.

This initiative is part of a multi-pronged effort by URI to address the topic of mental health. Other efforts include JED Campus, a non-profit that exists to protect emotional health and prevent suicide, implementation of the Campaign to Change Direction, adoption of  Mental Health First Aid training, the Be 5K Run/Walk for Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention and hosting Fresh Check Day, a program of the Jordan Porco Foundation.

Learn more about South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds and their initiatives to keep local families healthy.

Olivia Ross, an intern in the Marketing and Communications Department at URI and public relations major, wrote this press release.