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Retrospective analysis of reported suicide deaths and attempts on veterans health administration campuses and inpatient units


Introduction Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the USA. Inpatient suicide is the fourth most common sentinel event reported to the Joint Commission. This study reviewed root cause analysis (RCA) reports of suicide events by hospital unit to provide suicide prevention recommendations for each area.

Methods This is a retrospective analysis of reported suicide deaths and attempts in the US Veterans Health Administration (VHA) hospitals. We searched the VHA National Center for Patient Safety RCA database for suicide deaths and attempts on inpatient units, outpatient clinics and hospital grounds, between December 1999 and December 2018.

Results We found 847 RCA reports of suicide attempts (n=758) and deaths (n=89) in VHA hospitals, hanging accounted for 71% of deaths on mental health units and 50% of deaths on medical units. Overdose accounted for 55% of deaths and 68% of attempts in residential units and the only method resulting in death in emergency departments. In VHA community living centres, hanging, overdose and asphyxiation accounted for 64% of deaths. Gunshot accounted for 59% of deaths on hospital grounds and 100% of deaths in clinic areas. All inpatient locations cited issues in assessment and treatment of suicidal patients and environmental risk evaluation.

Conclusions Inpatient mental health and medical units should remove anchor points for hanging where possible. On residential units and emergency departments, assessing suicide risk, conducting thorough contraband searches and maintaining observation of suicidal patients is critical. In community living centres, suicidal patients should be under supervision in an environment free of anchor points, medications and means of asphyxiation. Suicide prevention on hospital grounds and outpatient clinics can be achieved through the control of firearms.

  • patient safety
  • mental health
  • incident reporting
  • root cause analysis

Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information. All relevant data to the study are included in the study. No other data are available.

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