As of July 1 the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming will no longer be funded to perform suicide prevention.
“I’m sad,” said Matt Stech, a community prevention specialist for the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming. “I’m not sure exactly what will happen.”
Stech said the cut to funding “hurts” and will be “significant.” The organization will now shift its focus solely to alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drug and opioid abuse prevention.
Sweeping reductions to the Wyoming Department of Health’s budget are the cause of those cuts, spokeswoman Kim Deti said. Last summer the department faced a 9.5 percent cut of its general fund budget, affecting programs across the board. Additional cuts to revenue sources added up to $140 million in reductions.
Additional reductions during the 2017 legislative session slashed another $2.1 million specifically directed toward suicide and substance abuse prevention programs, something Deti called “significant reductions in this area, no doubt about it.”
“That doesn’t mean we are abandoning the issue,” she said. “We definitely recognize that suicide is an important public health concern in Wyoming, so instead we’re going to take a different approach. We still know these are important issues, but we need to address the lower amount of funding that we have.”
The different approach, Deti said, is focusing statewide on suicide prevention activities and decreasing community prevention services. One or two staff members will be added at the state level.
Significant changes in store
“It’s a very difficult situation,” Deti said. “There’s no way you can make reductions of that scale in a certain area and not be making significant changes, unfortunately.”
Wyoming has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.
“We have all the risk factors in Wyoming,” Stech said. “Everybody is a stakeholder in this situation.”
Risk factors include gun ownership, alcohol abuse, depression rates and barriers to health care access in rural communities. Research is also exploring the potential connection between altitude and higher suicide rates.
Stech said the national rate has been gradually climbing, but Teton County’s rate has been somewhat stable recently. He also said Teton County’s suicide rate tends to below the Wyoming rate, but above the national rate, over the past 20 or so years.
Stech said he will try to keep programming running as smoothly as possible.
“In some ways we are set up to function cheaply,” he said. “The thing that I think will be the most impacted is being able to promote programs.”
An example is the QPR class — Question, Persuade, Refer — an educational program to teach people the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to respond. Stech said his organization spends hundreds of dollars a month trying to get people to take the class through measures like paid Facebook ads.
Stech also said gun lock distribution efforts will also be affected for time and money reasons.
In response to cuts Stech said any help is appreciated. Ranked in order of importance he listed these needs: storage for suicide prevention resources, storage for substance abuse prevention resources, a meeting space for coalition meetings, assistance with promotion related to suicide prevention and a small space — something he called “ideal, but not imperative” — for meetings, a desk and a printer.
Stech personally is looking at a salary reduction in addition to losing funding for an office. Other positions around the state will be reduced because some counties will share staff, starting in July, instead of having one or several staff members per county.
“There will be folks without a job, unfortunately,” Deti said.
Stech will stay in Teton County to shoulder the workload without a co-worker.
“There is going to be some degree of a break in continuity around every community in Wyoming,” Stech said. “That’s difficult, and we’ll do our best to mitigate that. But certain things are going to be impacted.”
In an email to members of the Suicide Prevention Coalition, a group of volunteers and experts in the community, Stech said he plans to continue leading the group and hopes “this next chapter will continue with more progress despite these hurdles, and I believe it will … despite this recent challenge I feel like our efforts have had a positive impact on the community in ways that we know about and ways that we will never know about.”