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Effect of mental health staffing inputs on suicide-related events.

Feyman Y, Figueroa SM, Yuan Y, Price ME, Kabdiyeva A, Nebeker JR, Ward MC, Shafer PR, Pizer SD, Strombotne KL. Effect of mental health staffing inputs on suicide-related events. Health services research. 2023 Apr 1; 58(2):375-382.

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OBJECTIVE: To estimate the effects of changes in Veterans Health Administration (VHA) mental health services staffing levels on suicide-related events among a cohort of Veterans. DATA SOURCES: Data were obtained from the VHA Corporate Data Warehouse, the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration Infrastructure for Clinical Intelligence, the VHA survey of enrollees, and customized VHA databases tracking suicide-related events. Geographic variables were obtained from the Area Health Resources Files and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. STUDY DESIGN: We used an instrumental variables (IV) design with a Heckman correction for non-random partial observability of the use of mental health services. The principal predictor was a measure of provider staffing per 10,000 enrollees. The outcome was the probability of a suicide-related event. DATA COLLECTION/EXTRACTION METHODS: Data were obtained for a cohort of Veterans who recently separated from active service. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: From 2014 to 2018, the per-pay period probability of a suicide-related event among our cohort was 0.05%. We found that a 1% increase in mental health staffing led to a 1.6 percentage point reduction in suicide-related events. This was driven by the first tertile of staffing, suggesting diminishing returns to scale for mental health staffing. CONCLUSIONS: VHA facilities appear to be staffing-constrained when providing mental health care. Targeted increases in mental health staffing would be likely to reduce suicidality.

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