Cherokee Regional Medical Center Monday, Jan 29, 2024

Cherokee County Suicide Prevention Coalition Serves as Support Network for Local First Responders

CHEROKEE, Iowa – Cherokee County Suicide Prevention Coalition is proud to announce the creation of a support network for first responders in the community. The Cherokee County Suicide Prevention coalition serves the community by working together to process through evidence-based solutions to reduce suicide within the county. Over the last several months, the coalition has been working on creating a way to better support the first responders in the community in wake of great tragedy. It can be exponentially challenging for first responders to reach out for help when they are struggling due to the nature of the work they volunteered for. It is all considered a part of the job, it is what they went to school for or received specialized training in, but that does not mean it is not mentally challenging and additional mental health support is necessary.

According to a study done at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, suicide is ranked as one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Over 40,000 individuals die by suicide each year and, in 2020, it was ranked in the top 9 causes of death for all ages (10-64), and second for those 10-14 and 25-34 years of age. In Cherokee County alone, the suicide rates are 33 percent higher than the national average and 25 percent higher than the state average according to County Health Rankings. These statistics disproportionately reflect first responders as they die by suicide more than the general public. First responders are defined in the community as anyone who would respond to the scene of a tragic event, from the dispatchers who took the call, to those who transported the individual to an alternative location, and all those who respond to the bedside of the individual if they arrive at the hospital.

The support system created by the coalition revolves around a coordinated effort to debrief first responders following a tragic event. In technical terms, this is called a critical incident stress debriefing and it is a discussion with those only directly involved with an incident with a purpose of helping minimize the symptoms of traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression. The discussion typically revolves around the events that occurred, it involves a set time to express emotions, a review of the incident’s impact, and brings closure for the responder.

Our community is the first known county to create a written plan on how to handle these cases in the area. All of the guidelines put into motion were developed in collaboration by the partners of the coalition who respond to incidents within the county; Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department, Marcus and Aurelia Police Department, Cherokee County Emergency Management, and the Cherokee Regional Medical Center Ambulance and Emergency Departments. If an event occurs within the county, the Public Health or EMA department will be contacted and a critical incident stress management (CISM) team will be called in within 24-48 hours following the event and all responding agencies will be invited to attend the debriefing.

The Siouxland CISM team covers the counties of Cherokee, Ida, Monona, Crawford, Sac, and Woodbury and is the team who would respond. This is an entirely volunteer team who is trained in critical incident stress debriefings. They will bring in a trained individual on the debriefing along with mental health support individuals. Since this is an entirely volunteer network, it is noted that Northwest Iowa does not have many of these volunteers and many of them are traveling a great distance to come to our community. Additionally, a network of mental health professionals who are specifically trained in the health of first responders throughout the area will be able to be present during debriefings to those who may need additional support following an event.

The coalition has worked hard to involve all potential responding agencies in the community for it to be utilized county-wide with success and receive any additional thoughts or potential challenges. An agreement has been signed by all responding agencies including Cherokee Regional, law enforcement agencies, and fire departments who will work together to ensure increased mental health support for the first responders of Cherokee County.

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis yourself, remember that where there is help there is hope. You can always call 988 to talk to someone immediately and receive the help you need. To learn more about the Cherokee County Suicide Prevention Coalition or if you are interested in becoming a volunteer for the critical incident stress management team, contact Kayla Mayer at Cherokee County Public Health by calling 712.225.2129.

Pictured:  Back Row L-R: Kent Lundquist, Cherokee Regional Medical Center; Susan Garro, Rosecrance Jackson; Jessica Knippel, Cherokee Regional Medical Center; Christina Morgan, Pride Group; Lisa Bringle, Rolling Hills; Destiny Jorgenson, DHS; Theresa Berg, Plains Area Mental Health
Front Row L-R: Greg Gengler, Cherokee Regional Medical Center; Brian Flikied, Marcus & Aurelia Police Chief; Melissa Schlenger; Kelley Wester, Cherokee County Public Health; Kayla Mayer, Cherokee County Public Health; Dawn Stephenson, Pride Group; Tracy Delao, Plains Area Mental Health
Not pictured: Kaitlin Harvey, Rosecrance Jackson; Derek Scott, Cherokee County Sheriff; Jenn Witzke, Cherokee Regional Medical Center; Lorna Kohn, Cherokee Regional Medical Center; Susan Roeman, Cherokee Mental Health Institute