An update from DHW Director Dave Jeppesen: Working to reduce Idaho’s suicide rate

DHW’s Living Strategic Plan: A year of progress toward Goal 3 – Help Idahoans become as healthy and self-sufficient as possible

As the department continues to develop our next five-year strategic plan, we have also been able to take a few moments to reflect on the journey behind us. We are proud to share the work we have accomplished, despite the challenges over the past year.

Today’s post is the third in a four-part series highlighting the department’s progress toward our mission and the goals we have committed to in our strategic plan. In this blog post, I would like to take the opportunity to highlight some of the key achievements over the past year as part of “Strategic Goal 3: Help Idahoans become as healthy and self-sufficient as possible.” This includes work on one of our most urgent priorities: reducing suicide in Idaho. We are also engaging in two areas of groundbreaking preventative work that will help Idahoans live their best lives decades down the road.

Objective 3.1: Reduce Idaho’s suicide rate by 20 percent by 2025.

  • One of the key strategies the Division of Public Health uses in their work to reduce suicide in Idaho is to engage with communities throughout the state. To connect with communities, the division works closely with collectives in each of Idaho’s seven public health districts, and with a collaborative stakeholder group, the Suicide Prevention Action Collective (ISPAC). Part of this work has involved implementing subgrants with each of the public health districts and holding quarterly meetings to strengthen the capacity for suicide prevention. This work continues with regular meetings and collaboration on the Idaho Suicide Prevention Plan.
  • The department set an ambitious goal to work with partners to train a minimum of 25,000 Idahoans on the signs of suicide and how to refer individuals to suicide care by June 30, 2021. This goal has been achieved, and as of May 18, there have been 25,030 Idahoans who have participated in suicide awareness and prevention training.
  • The department set a goal to develop a statewide strategy to reduce suicide contagion, which supports the Idaho Suicide Prevention Plan. This work is ongoing, and the Suicide Prevention Program has engaged in various activities, such as gathering information from partners and public health districts about regional gaps and opportunities. They also are developing a toolkit to help communities minimize the negative effects and reinforce resilience following a suicide.

Objective 3.2: Address health disparities and the social determinants of health (SDOH) associated with the priority health issues (diabetes, obesity, injury, and behavioral health).

  • The department is working toward addressing poor health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, suicide, illicit drug use, youth violence, social isolation, and mental health issues, which are intrinsically linked to the underlying social and economic conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age. Social determinants of health include factors such as poverty, unemployment, education, housing, social support, and the physical environment, as well as access to healthcare.
  • The department has identified and implemented three funding sources for the first year of the Get Healthy Idaho community subgrant, which is a community-driven, placed-based health initiative. This work is helping to improve health outcomes, lower healthcare costs, reduce health disparities and improve health equity across Idaho.
  • The department has identified a community to support and fund with a Get Healthy Idaho subgrant. We are working with the Western Idaho Community Health Collaborative, which will address persistent health challenges faced by the most vulnerable residents of Elmore County, including mental and behavioral health and diabetes, by providing resources, expertise, and support to the Elmore County Health Coalition.
  • The department is working on an evaluation report for the Get Healthy Idaho work, which will measure community-level health indicators. The assessment process includes considering story maps as tools to combine geographic data with images and stories and allow the display of health disparities along with successes, programs, and interventions.​
  • Finally, the department has recruited additional funds to support a second year and an additional community award.

Objective 3.3: By July 1, 2023, implement three evidence-informed initiatives that reduce harmful adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in Idaho families.

  • DHW staff and community partners continue to push forward with groundbreaking preventative work focusing on setbacks experienced in childhood that can have a lifetime of negative effects: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). These experiences, including abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction, are linked with numerous negative health outcomes, such as binge drinking, smoking, and depression.
  • One of the ways the department is working toward reducing ACEs is by implementing Medicaid coverage for evidence-based home visiting models, which are programs that help parents and caregivers raise children who are physically, socially, and emotionally healthy and ready to learn. This work has involved collaborative work with Nursing Family Partnership and Parents as Teachers, and the department is currently working with federal partners to implement this Medicaid coverage for these services.
  • DHW has awarded funds to form an ACEs learning collaborative. The collaborative is led by the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund, in affiliation with the Idaho Resilience Project and Head Start. Two focus groups have been formed with one main goal: developing human-centered guidelines for physicians on screening for ACEs. One focus group is of physicians and one includes parents and foster care alumni. Over the last few months, the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund has conducted one physician focus group and six parent focus groups.

It has been a long year for all of us. In reviewing the progress we have made over the past year toward helping Idahoans not just get through such difficult times, but to actually thrive, I am overwhelmed by the importance of this work. I am constantly impressed by the grit and perseverance of DHW staff and the partners who continue to help us along the way.

Much of this preventative work will be in development for some time to come, and many of the results will appear years from now. As they say, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, but the next best time to plant one is today. As we move forward in our strategic planning work to focus on the next five years, I am confident that we will continue to innovate and collaborate in our work together to serve Idahoans.

You can follow the DHW’s work toward our mission and read more about our strategic plan on our website.

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