Kentucky ranks in the top 20 states in suicide death rates according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Rogher Hargus, program director for inpatient behavioral health at Owensboro Health Regional Hospital says the suicide rate has doubled in Daviess County in the last two years.
Hargus says this could be result of many factors, including mental illness, chronic pain or loss of a loved one, but Hargus says alcohol and substance abuse, specifically the methamphetamine and opioid crisis across the state, is a major factor.
Andrew Boggess, Public Information Officer for Owensboro Police Department, says OPD has made 504 involuntary hospitalization calls so far this year, which is actually down by 100 calls from the same time period in 2017. Boggess says these are not necessarily all cases of suicide, but that suicide is the most likely reason for these calls.
According to the Daviess County Coroner’s Office, there have been 13 suicides in Daviess County so far this year, which compares to 17 in 2017 and 30 in 2016.
Even more, Hargus says that according to OHRH Community Health Needs Assessment, which is conducted every three years in collaboration with Green River District Health Department, 12.2 percent of Daviess County has experienced frequent mental distress. Daviess County ranks higher than the Kentucky average at 10 percent and the U.S. average at 11 percent, says Hargus.
Combine these statistics with a national shortage of psychiatrists and Hargus says access to mental health care is more important than ever.
“We have to do a good job of coordinating care so a patient’s medication does not run out because this can cause additional difficulties,” Hargus said.
Hargus started his position at OHRH in May. Since then he has started an overhaul of the behavioral health unit, moving patient care from a 3-day crisis model to a 5 to 6-day treatment model, implementing cognitive behavioral therapy.
“This model looks at a patient’sd emotions, thinking and behaviors and how to intervene to make fairly quick changes,” Hargus said.
Additionally, OHRH has added two new psychiatrists — Dr. Rhine Hejran who will join one full-time and one part-time outpatient psychiatrist and Dr. Debra Bunger, the unit’s first inpatient psychiatrist, who started at OHRH earlier this month.
OHRH Marketing Specialist Dariush Shafa, says Owensboro is not immune to the national psychiatrist shortage, but the community has other mental health professionals available.
“Nurse practitioners are invaluable resources for our community,” Shafa said. “They help patients get care more quickly.”
Even with having nurse practitioners and counselors on staff, Shafa says they will continue to recruit psychiatrists as long as there is a need.
“Our mission is to heal the sick and to improve the health of the communities we serve,” Shafa said. “Expanding access to care — particularly mental health care — is an important part of our care.”
While OHRH is focusing on suicide prevention and behavioral health care year round, September is national suicide awareness month.
“It’s a myth that suicide ideation can happen suddenly,” Hargus said. “It is usually a result of feeling overwhelmed over a long period of time, which is a feeling that can be dealt with. If you are concerned about a loved one, talk to them, give the opportunity to let them know you’re there and willing to help.”
OHRH encourages people not feeling safe because they wish to harm themselves or think they may need inpatient behavioral care to call their access number at 270-417-3744.
“Seek help,” Hargus said.