COOS BAY — Coos County has one of the highest suicide rates in Oregon.
There were 149 reported suicides between 2003 and 2010, according to the Oregon Health Authority’s findings. That placed the county fourth with a rate of 29.4 suicide deaths for every 100,000 people. It is 70 percent higher than the state average. Only Curry, Grant and Harney counties had higher numbers for all ages. Oregon’s average is 16.1 per 100,000, or 4,772 total suicide deaths. The state average is 35 percent higher than the national one at 10.5 per 100,000.
The Coos County Public Health Department is addressing the issue in its Community Health Improvement Plan. At a recent meeting, officials discussed how they want to reach out to patients through increased depression screenings. They plan to implement their plan, once finalized this fall, over the next couple of years.
David Geels, director of the county’s mental health department, said one of the plan’s goals should be to increase access to care. He also described a time when five middle-aged men committed suicide in a couple months’ time. He said they’d all recently seen their primary health physician within the last month and had a “clean bill of health.”
The Western Oregon Advanced Health, the county’s Coordinated Care Organization, already requires screening of Oregon Health Plan patients. In fact, OHP patients have adequate care, according to the county’s findings.
“We want to expand it to all patients,” said Nikki Zogg, Coos County Health Administrator. “After the Medicaid patients receive help, then the dual eligible (Medicaid and Medicare) will, and then private insurance holders.”
The CHIP report said “uninsured individuals may only be able to access urgent/emergent mental health care, neglecting the kind of routing services that may prevent the higher cost and disruptive types of care. Individuals with commercial insurance may need to go outside the county to gain the needed mental health services.”
Officials also want to catch depression and other mental health issues in public schools with adding screenings by nurses, but the plan is still in the works. Those not in public school wouldn’t be reached, so other they’d have to take other avenues, such as the Boys and Girls Club, said Geels.
“The number of healthcare professionals in the county is lacking,” said Geels, “especially psychiatrists.”