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Billings Clinic suicide prevention grant announced

Dr. Eric Arzubi, left, talks about the suicide prevention grant Billings Clinic received to implement a screening program in 11 Eastern Montana Critical Access Hospital emergency departments. Gov. Steve Bullock, right, listens. 

State officials gathered in Columbus on Wednesday to announce grant recipients for roughly a third of the million dollars set aside last year to fund suicide prevention in Montana.

Gov. Steve Bullock and Sheila Hogan, director of the Department of Public Health and Human Services, spoke at the Stillwater Billings Clinic in Columbus to announce the nine clinics, schools and community organizations that received the first chunk of the grant money.

Of the $1 million allocated, $372,000 in grants were announced Wednesday. Recipients of the remaining grant funds will be announced later.

Funding for the grants was allocated in HB 118, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder. Bullock had requested the funding in his budget.

Bullock said he was confident the state was moving in the right direction on the problem of suicide, and that efforts underway would help prevent future deaths.

“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,” he said.

Montana ranks No. 1 in the nation for suicide rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Billings Clinic received the largest grant in this first round. It will use the $107,000 provided on a new suicide risk detection and prevention program at 11 of its Eastern Montana hospitals.

The clinics will use a new computer tool “that replicates the judgement of a skilled psychiatrist in screening a patient with suicidal ideation,” according to a press release issued by the governor’s office.

Under the new program, emergency department staff will screen every patient 18 or older, the press release said. A moderate or high score for likelihood of suicide will prompt a referral for at-risk patients.

At present, routine suicide screening is not offered at the rural hospitals.

“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,” said Dr. Eric Arzubi, chair of Psychiatry at Billings Clinic.

The new Billings Clinic program will screen 20,000 people in the next year, Arzubi estimated.

Other recipients include:

  • A substance abuse program anchored in Glendive and Sidney
  • The Flathead City-County Health Department
  • Public schools in Missoula County, Jefferson County, Helena and Lockwood.

Of the $1 million allocated for suicide prevention last year, 75 percent will go to schools and community organizations, and 25 percent will go to continued implementation of the Montana Native Youth Suicide Reduction Strategic Plan.


Justice Reporter

Justice reporter for the Billings Gazette.