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Governor Bullock Announces Support for Community and School Suicide Prevention Programs

Wednesday, February 28, 2018/Categories: Governor's Office/Tags:

Governor Steve Bullock today announced $372,000 in grants to Montana community organizations, health care providers, and schools to expand current or launch new evidence-based suicide prevention programs.

“Montana is fortunate to have so many passionate and talented professionals who are diligently working together to address an issue that is devastating to our communities,” said Governor Bullock. “With this additional support for ongoing efforts and for new, innovative solutions proven to be effective, I’m confident we are moving in the right direction and that we can prevent future tragedies.”

Governor Bullock joined Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Sheila Hogan at the Stillwater Billings Clinic in Columbus to announce the grant recipients.

Governor Bullock included in his 2017 budget and the Legislature passed HB 118, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, to provide $1 million for suicide prevention in Montana. A total of $750,000 was allocated for schools and community organizations to implement evidence-based suicide prevention programs. A total of $250,000 is dedicated to the continued implementation of the Montana Native Youth Suicide Reduction Strategic Plan. The remaining available funds will be announced in the near future.

Director Hogan applauded the many thoughtful and innovative proposals that were submitted. The applicants were given the freedom to request funding specific to their needs within their organization, community or school to implement evidence-based programs.

“I’m truly impressed by the proposals we received, and I wish them all the best as they move these efforts forward,” Director Hogan said. “It’s clear that our state, in both the private and public sector, is committed to working together to implement solutions to address suicide prevention in Montana.”

Billings Clinic received $107,000 to implement a community-based suicide detection and prevention program in 11 eastern Montana Critical Access Hospital emergency departments (EDs). The program will standardize suicide screening at these locations using new technology for all patients seeking emergency care across most of eastern Montana. Billings Clinic has already tested the new electronic screening tool that replicates the judgement of a skilled psychiatrist in screening a patient with suicidal ideation.  

This project coordinates the suicide screening and assessment of all adults seeking emergency care in the emergency departments of eleven Billings Clinic-affiliated Critical Access Hospitals across eastern Montana, including Beartooth Billings Clinic (Red Lodge), Stillwater Billings Clinic (Columbus), Livingston Healthcare, Central Montana Medical Center (Lewistown), Wheatland Memorial Healthcare (Harlowton), Glendive Medical Center, Sheridan Memorial Hospital (Plentywood), Daniels Memorial Hospital (Scobey), Roundup Memorial Hospital, Pioneer Medical Center (Big Timber), and Colstrip Medical Center. At present, this type of routine suicide screening is not offered.

Under this program, emergency department care teams will screen every adult patient age 18 and over visiting the participating EDs. A moderate or high score for likelihood of suicide will prompt an appropriate referral for at risk identified patients.

According to Eric Arzubi, MD, Chair of Psychiatry at Billings Clinic, about 20,000 people are expected to be screened at these 11 EDs over the next year. “We believe this approach using new technology that has been tested and validated has the potential to make a tremendous impact for patients in rural Montana,” Arzubi said.

Billings Clinic anticipates this project will help decrease suicides in rural Montana through a community-based initiative that identifies vulnerable individuals in the hospital setting, stratifies their suicide risk and provides appropriate education, referral or immediate treatment.

Dr. Arzubi said the program will also link those in need of treatment with psychiatric services. “Most of the nation is experiencing a psychiatry shortage and this is acutely felt in rural Montana,” he said. Arzubi added that telepsychiatry can link those in need of specialty care with the specialist in less time and at a fraction of the cost.

Stillwater Billings Clinic in Columbus is one of the participating sites. Stillwater’s interim CEO Mike Follett said Stillwater Billings Clinic’s staff are eager to bring this new screening tool to Columbus. “We are always looking for ways to better serve our patients, and this new tool will help us improve our ability to screen patients for suicide risk, and then help link them to appropriate resources through our partnership with Billings Clinic,” he said. 

Hogan said several schools will be expanding or implementing the PAX Good Behavior Game. This program teaches children good behavior skills to help minimize disruptions and promote a productive learning environment. Research and studies have shown the program can help children cope with emotional and mental health challenges later in life, including reducing suicide rates.

DPHHS will collect information at the end of the biennium from each grant recipient to help understand the effectiveness of each program in decreasing the suicide rate in their community or region of the state. 

Below is a full list of grant recipients:

  • Billings Clinic received $107,000 to implement a community-based suicide detection and prevention program in 11 eastern Montana Critical Access Hospital emergency departments.


  • Flathead City-County Health Department received $63,000 to implement several suicide prevention efforts including training on the Question, Persuade, Refer program, mental health first aid, and an introduction to ACEs training.


  • The District II Alcohol and Drug Prevention Program (Glendive/Sidney) received $63,000 to implement the STEP UP program (Strategies and Tools Embrace Prevention with Upstream Programs). The program is an evidence-based program for middle-school students aimed to promoting positive mental health, building emotional competence, and a safe school climate. The counties to be served include Blaine, Philips, Daniels, Sheridan, Garfield, Roosevelt, Richland, McCone, Prairie, Wibaux and Dawson.


  • Tamarack Grief Resource Center (TGRC) received $47,000 to coordinate/facilitate suicide prevention activities for schools, businesses, community organizations, trauma survivors, and Veteran populations throughout the region integrating prevention training and suicide postvention support. Community suicide prevention workshops utilizing the Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) program will be offered at no cost to participants. This funding will also help TGRC provide support for suicide loss survivors, train educators and care providers on postvention best practices, and facilitate school-based activities including SOS (Signs of Suicide) throughout western Montana including Browning, Heart Butte, Arlee, and Columbia Falls.


  • Missoula County Public Schools received $41,000 to implement the PAX Good Behavior Game to kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students in selected Missoula County Public School District’s elementary schools.


  • RiverStone Health received $20,000 to train elementary school teachers and administrators in Yellowstone, Wibaux, and Carbon counties on the PAX Good Behavior Game.


  • Helena School District to receive $15,000 to implement the PAX Good Behavior Game.


  • Jefferson County School District received $15,000 to implement the PAX Good Behavior Game in all first, second, and third grade classrooms. 


  • Lockwood School District to receive $1000 in funds to implement several evidence-based programs, including Riding the Waves program for 4th Graders; Look, Listen, Link curriculum for 5th graders and the Signs of Suicide (SOS) program for 6th-8th graders.

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