Intermountain Healthcare’s work to prevent suicides involving firearms was featured at a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C. The U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Subcommittee brought together public health experts from across the country to discuss the consequences and costs of gun violence. Morissa Henn, Intermountain's Community Health program director, testified about the link between suicides and firearms and presented what Utah is doing as a model for the nation.
Henn spoke during her presentation about how firearm deaths account for half the suicides in the U.S — and 85 percent of the suicides in Utah.
"We know that reducing access to lethal means for those who are at risk of suicide is a proven, effective tool for prevention," Henn told the subcommittee. "Suicide rates decline sharply when there's time and distance between people at risk for suicide and access to firearms."
A coalition of different groups in Utah are collaborating on suicide prevention and lethal means reduction, Henn said. "We've been fortunate to join a coalition of health professionals, gun owners, and other stakeholders who are working together to prevent firearm suicides in Utah," she said. "Building productive, trusting relationships with gun owners on suicide has connected the data with culturally-relevant messages regarding access to firearms."
She shared examples of approaches used by Utah's suicide prevention coalition, including training to help clinicians intervene with high-risk patients, research related to firearms and suicide, Utah's Safe Harbor Law, and a new $2 million media and education campaign that addresses the issue of suicide and how reducing lethal means access can save lives.
"While we don't fully know whether the interventions in individual states like ours impact suicidal behavior, the short-term wins have created momentum," says Henn. "We're optimistic that such efforts, at scale, will ultimately contribute to reductions in suicide rates."
How did the representatives react to her testimony? "It was heartening to sense the discussion finally moving beyond political polemics and instead explore real common ground opportunities," says Henn. "There was lots of discussion about what America can learn from Utah to prevent gun deaths, such as making gun safes and gun locks more available, and about sustainable funding for evidence-based research."
Lawmakers in the hearing said they were impressed to see meaningful results from Intermountain's work in Utah.
"Listening to this entire conversation really brings it home," said Rep. Jackie Walorski from Indiana. "I'm really impacted by the fact that you're actually talking about a community that has brought shareholders to the table, with gun owners and health professionals coming together to talk."
Henn said at the hearing, "By moving outside of our comfort zones we've been able to find a common denominator: We're all universally horrified there are so many gun deaths, and we all want our loved ones to be safe. We've found a level of trust with different groups, including gun owners, because neither side has a monopoly on grief from losing a loved one. It doesn't matter how you feel about the issue of guns or whether you own guns, there's that common horror. And that becomes a common hope. We can come together and look for ways to save lives."
Henn adds, "Several of the committee members and audience members approached me afterward to say things like, 'We always knew Intermountain was one the best healthcare systems in the country, but now we understand how its mission extends far beyond clinic and hospital walls.' It's exciting to have Intermountain modeling the collaborative, creative, data-driven efforts needed to move the dial on the most urgent and complex health issues of our communities and era."
Click to watch the entire hearing. Henn's testimony begins at 1:06:36.