Oregon State Senate committee discusses bills to expand suicide prevention efforts

The Oregon Senate Committee on Human Services, Mental Health and Recovery heard testimony on Tuesday on SB 563 and SB 682 — two bills that aim to address the state’s high suicide rate.

Senate Bill 563 modifies laws to include suicide data and suicide prevention measures to extend to those who are 5 to 10 years of age. Senate Bill 682 establishes and protects the role of Adult Suicide Intervention and Prevention Coordinator in the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). Both bills were discussed in a public hearing for the first time on Tuesday. 

 

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Senator Lew Fredrick, representing the state’s 22nd Senate district, spoke on SB 682:

“We have a situation, unfortunately right now, where it’s not just a situation with children. We are dealing with adult issues and we need to have a coordinated effort.”

According to suicide mortality data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Oregon had the ninth highest suicide rate in the country across all ages in 2019. Oregon suicide rates have risen since 2017, especially in adults.

However, youth suicides rates are declining. The same 2019 data showed that Oregon suicide deaths of those 10 to 24 years of age decreased for the first time since 2015. Suicide rates for 2020 are not yet finalized, though preliminary information suggests that the youth rates are decreasing more. 

Dean E. Sidelinger, state epidemiologist, said in a statement:

“Every loss to suicide is a tragedy. Our state has done a tremendous amount of work in suicide prevention in the past two years, including launching new programs that provide emotional support for COVID-19 concerns. While it appears that Oregon has not seen increased deaths by suicide linked to the pandemic in 2020, Oregon’s rates of suicide in recent years are still concerning. After all, Oregon remains above the national average for suicides, and above average for youth age groups as well.”

In response to the increasing number in adult suicide deaths, Annette Marcus, suicide prevention policy manager for the Oregon Alliance to Prevent Suicide, testified in favor or SB 563 and SB 682

“Suicide is really not a single system issue. It’s a complex, cross-system issue that takes a tremendous amount of collaboration, both at the state level and at the county level.”

Marcus said the position of adult suicide prevention coordinator already exists. However, SB 682 would protect that position and allow the role to become more of a priority within OHA. 

Senate Bill 563 would allow for OHA to collect data on suicide death rates to analyze the scope of the problem. Marcus said:

“Elementary age children will benefit from the prevention efforts to build resilience in social and emotional skills, but the schools also really need to be prepared to do thoughtful planning regarding intervention and treatment for those who are actively struggling with suicidality.”

The committee addressed their next steps in behavioral health legislation. Senator Sara Gelser, representing the 8th Senate district, spoke on the inequitable access to behavioral health care providers. Those on the Oregon Health Plan and those who are clearly ill or unstable have equitable access, but those who have private insurance plans do not. 

According to Gelser, reimbursement rates from private insurance plans are low, causing behavioral health providers to lose money by treating patients using these plans.

“Hardly any behavioral health provider will accept Providence, because their reimbursement rates lose them money on every single person that they serve. So, it is nearly impossible to get in to see anyone. We push you to that absolutely point of crisis, or your parents have to artificially impoverish themselves so that they can access this care.”