House Passes ENA-backed Legislation to Enhance Suicide Screenings

September 29, 2020 Government Relations Suicide

Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department Act aims to improve suicide risk protocols

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. (Sept. 29, 2020) – The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department Act, Emergency Nurses Association priority legislation focused on improving the ability of health care professionals working in hospital emergency departments to identify, assess and treat patients with signs of suicidality.

Within the health care system, the emergency department is often the place that provides care for patients with suicide-risk factors, with up to 11 percent of ED patients presenting with suicidal ideation. In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing, ENA researchers identified a need for improvement in the identification of at-risk patients in the emergency department and that additional efforts to enhance suicide-risk assessment should include screening tools that are used continuously during a patients’ ED visit.

H.R. 4861 creates a grant program within the Department of Health and Human Services that is focused on assisting EDs develop improved suicide risk protocols that can help save lives.

The funding provided under this grant program can be used by hospitals to:

  • Provide training to emergency health care providers on identifying and treating high-risk patients.
  • Establish policies and best practices for emergency departments to improve the identification, assessment and treatment of individuals who are at high risk of suicide, as well as developing best practices for coordination of care and discharge procedures for those patients.
  • Hire behavioral health professionals who specialize in treatment of patients with suicidal ideation.
  • Improve access to care for those at risk for suicide using telehealth and developing other approaches to reduce the boarding of patients in the ED.

There is a particularly urgent need for enhanced screening measures as suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention and National Institute for Mental Health. Suicide claims 47,000 American lives each year – and the nation saw a 31 percent increase in the suicide rate between 2001 and 2017.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in concerns over mental health. The CDC reported in June that suicide risk among Americans has increased dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 25 percent of young adults between the ages of 18-24 indicating they had seriously considered taking their own life.

ENA praised Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., for their bipartisan work in introducing and passing this important legislation in the House. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

ENA President Mike Hastings, MSN, RN, CEN, urged the Senate to follow the House’s lead and pass the Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department Act before the end of the session.

“Every day, emergency nurses have a unique opportunity to help our patients with not just their physical ailments, but to meaningfully engage them about their mental health,” Hastings said. “This important legislation creates directs support for those in danger of harming themselves by giving all emergency care providers more tools and resources to help at-risk patients more immediately and more effectively.”

About the Emergency Nurses Association

The Emergency Nurses Association is the premier professional nursing association dedicated to defining the future of emergency nursing through advocacy, education, research, innovation, and leadership. Founded in 1970, ENA has proven to be an indispensable resource to the global emergency nursing community. With more than 50,000 members worldwide, ENA advocates for patient safety, develops industry-leading practice standards and guidelines, and guides emergency healthcare public policy. ENA members have expertise in triage, patient care, disaster preparedness, and all aspects of emergency care. Additional information is available at

ENA Media Contact:

Dan Campana
Director of Communications