Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

VCU Pastoral Care develops suicide prevention policy

From Professor Russell H. Davis, ACPE Certified Educator and Rev. Robert B. Lantz Chair in Patient Counseling at VCU’s School of Allied Health Professions:


Our Department of Pastoral Care at Virginia Commonwealth University Health has developed a suicide prevention policy to assist our hospital in achieving one of the 2018 National Hospital Safety Goals:  “Identify patient safety risks:  NPSG.15.01.01.  Find out which patients are most likely to commit suicide.”

Whenever a patient is despondent or sharing thoughts about committing suicide, our protocol requires all staff chaplains, PRN chaplains, and CPE students (interns and residents) to confer with the patient’s nurse as well as with the chaplain (BCC) designated as the attending administrative chaplain for that shift.  The protocol includes strategies for escalation of the concern for the patient so as to ensure that appropriate psychiatric consultation takes place in a timely manner and that the hospital’s suicide prevention procedures are put into place.  It is not unusual for a chaplain to be the first to know about a patient’s deepest concerns.  The escalation procedures are necessary if it seems that other personnel are not taking seriously the chaplain’s concern for the patient’s well-being.  The protocol also contains departmental communication strategies for continuing care by subsequent shifts of chaplains.

Once the policy was developed and approved, we conducted a training with every member of the department that included some basic information on recognizing serious safety concerns such as suicide.  The training will be followed up with an interdisciplinary workshop on suicide prevention.

We’re grateful for VCU’s leadership in this crucial work. Thank you, Professor Davis!

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