Tuscaloosa VA Adopts Best Practice - Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center
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Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center


Tuscaloosa VA Adopts Best Practice

VA Innovation Network

Diffusion of Excellence Fellows at the Diffusion of Excellence Summit in August 2017

By TVAMC Admin
Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Innovation Competition
Tuscaloosa VA Adopts Best Practice from Cleveland VA Regarding Suicide Prevention

In September 2016, Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center was selected as one of 16 VAMC’s across Veterans Health Administration to participate in the VA’s Innovators Network. The Innovators Network, developed by employees for Veterans, is
a safe space for VA employees to test new ideas, and join forces with stakeholders across the Veteran community to improve the way VA serves Veterans.

The VA Center for Innovation hosts three types of competitions and challenges to identify and select ideas from every corner of the nation, capturing the most promising innovations to address both emerging and long-standing issues that impact Veterans.

In the Summer of 2017, Tuscaloosa VAMC participated in one such competition, the Diffusion of Excellence’s 3rd Annual Shark Tank Competition. This competition allowed medical centers to “bid” on 13 Gold Status Best Practices. Tuscaloosa won the bid to implement a best practice from the Cleveland VAMC that was called the “Substance Use Disorder and Suicide Prevention Therapy Group Module.”  The module is now called SPARC – Suicide Prevention Addiction Recovery Care therapy.  

The therapy group module was first implemented at the Cleveland VAMC in 2016, with monthly sessions offered to Veterans with substance use disorder diagnoses. Suicide prevention is a top priority for VA and any way that the medical center can better educate and serve Veterans to prevent even one suicide is considered a success.

Jackie Hill-Gordon, LICSW, was tapped as the implementing fellow to spearhead the implementation in Tuscaloosa. She attended the Diffusion of Excellence Summit in August 2017 in Washington D.C., where she met with Cleveland VAMC staff to map out current processes and steps to fully integrate the therapy group module into Tuscaloosa VA services. SPARC therapy participants are educated on facts such as a person with a substance use disorder is six times more likely to attempt to, or actually harm themselves, compared to those that do not have substance use disorders and one in three people who commit suicide do so while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. The correlation between substance abuse and risk for relapse and suicide is also explored with interactive activities that engage Veterans with substance use disorder in the discussion of the often uncomfortable discussion of suicide. 

Within the group the participants complete or update their suicide prevention and safety plans. Suicide prevention and safety plans include self-identified strategies to cope with crisis situations, as well as contact information for resources, friends and families to contact when in crisis and the Veterans Crisis Line.  Community resources listings are provided to the therapy group participants to address social and practical issues associated with risk for substance abuse relapse and suicide. Gun locks are provided free of charge to Veterans participating in the SPARC therapy group.

Tuscaloosa VA began offering the SPARC group therapy module on a weekly basis in September of 2017 to Veterans with substance use disorder enrolled in the Comprehensive Outpatient Substance Abuse Treatment Program (COSAT), Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (RRTP), Health Care for Homeless Veterans (HCHV) and Housing and Urban Development – VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH).  To date, 163 Veterans have participated in the SPARC therapy group. Feedback from the Veterans has been positive, with 96%  of the attendees reporting they have a better understanding of the link between suicide and substance abuse . The Tuscaloosa VA is now exploring ways to expand the SPARC therapy group to other at-risk Veterans receiving care in other areas throughout the medical center.

If you or someone you know has a substance use disorder and are interested in how you can get involved, please reach out to Jackie Hill-Gordon at 205-554-2000, ext. 2737. If you have thoughts of harming yourself, please reach out to the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, then press Option-1.


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