Legislature(2019 - 2020)SENATE FINANCE 532
04/24/2019 09:00 AM FINANCE
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SENATE BILL NO. 10 "An Act extending the termination date of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council; and providing for an effective date." 9:04:37 AM SENATOR SCOTT KAWASAKI, SPONSOR, introduced himself. JACOB GERRISH, STAFF, SENATOR SCOTT KAWASAKI, introduced himself. Senator Kawasaki discussed SB 10. He read from a Sponsor Statement (copy on file): Senate Bill 10 would extend the termination date of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council to 2027, ensuring another eight years of support for suicide prevention efforts in Alaska. The Council would otherwise be terminated on June 30, 2019. According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Section of Epidemiology, the suicide rate in Alaska increased by 13 percent between 2012 and 2017, making suicide the leading cause of death for Alaskans between the ages of 10 and 64. As a matter of public health, the state has a responsibility to address this disturbing trend and must actively continue to pursue strategies to prevent suicide in Alaska. The Statewide Suicide Prevention Council was created in 2001 and consists of 14 public and private members, including four state legislators. Under AS 44.39.350, the Council is statutorily responsible for: ?Advising legislators and the Governor on ways to improve Alaskans' health and wellness by reducing suicide; ?Improving public awareness of suicide and risk factors; ?Enhancing suicide prevention efforts; ?Working with partners and faith-based organizations to develop healthier communities; ?Creating a statewide suicide prevention plan and putting it in action; and ?Building and strengthening partnerships to prevent suicide. The Council holds public meetings, publishes a 5-Year State Suicide Prevention Plan, and works with schools and community groups to provide resources that educate Alaskans on how to prevent suicide. Last year, the Council partnered with the Alaska Community Foundation and Alaska Children's Trust to continue the GCI Suicide Prevention Grant Program. Nine grants were funded in 2017 across the state, totaling $100,000. The Council also helped secure funding for a 5-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to create the Alaska Native Collaborative Hub for Resilience Research, which will help Alaska Native communities share knowledge, guide research, and identify culturally relevant suicide prevention strategies in rural Alaska. Terminating the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council would jeopardize the state's efforts at addressing this heartbreaking, but preventable, issue. I respectfully ask for your support of SB 10 this year. Senator Kawasaki added that the council would sunset on June 30, 2019 if it were not extended. 9:07:46 AM Senator Olson considered the extension of the council and reflected on the proposed eight-year extension. He wondered how to determine whether the council had been effective. Senator Kawasaki responded that there had been recent progress in the area of prevention. 9:09:08 AM Senator Olson queried whether there were numbers to show the council had been effective in reducing suicide. Senator Kawasaki preferred to let council members discuss the work of the council. 9:10:02 AM Co-Chair von Imhof noted that there was invited testimony to address questions. 9:10:32 AM KRIS CURTIS, LEGISLATIVE AUDITOR, ALASKA DIVISION OF LEGISLATIVE AUDIT, referenced the audit "A Sunset Review of the Department of Health and Social Services, Statewide Suicide Prevention Council (council)" dated August 3, 2018(copy on file). She read from the report conclusions from the front page of the audit: The audit found the council operated in the public's interest by actively broadening the public's awareness of suicide prevention and coordinating the efforts of other suicide prevention entities including State agencies, regional groups, coalitions, and local communities. Additionally, the council fulfilled its statutory duty by issuing the 2018-2022 Suicide Prevention Plan and working closely with stakeholders to add and refine the plan's strategies, resources, and indicators. The audit also concluded that administrative improvements were needed to ensure council meetings are adequately public noticed and the executive director is consistently evaluated on an annual basis. Ms. Curtis referenced Page 4 of the audit, which showed the council's schedule of expenditures and funding sources. The council was funded by General Fund (GF) appropriations for just over $650,000 in FY 18. The expenditures for the council were just under $600,000 in FY 18. Ms. Curtis referenced Pages 9 and 10 of the audit, which showed a list of council activities. She noted that the council was very active. The council had two recommendations for the council, which were administrative and should be easily addressed. She read the recommendations listed on Page 12 of the audit: Recommendation No. 1: The council's executive director should develop and implement procedures to ensure public notices for meetings are published timely and accurately. From July 2014 through March 2018, five of the 18 meetings held (28 percent) were not public noticed or not public noticed properly. Specifically, two were not published on the State's Online Public Notices system, two were published with incorrect meeting dates, and one was published one day prior to the meeting. Th e deficiencies were caused by a lack of written procedures to ensure notices are posted timely and contain accurate meeting dates. Recommendation No. 2: The council chair should develop and implement written procedures to ensure performance evaluations are completed annually for the council's executive director. Between July 2014 and March 2018, two evaluations were completed for the executive director; however, two more should have been completed. Specifically, there were no evaluations for the period of November 2014 to November 2015, and November 2015 to June 2016. Per discussion with council staff and the previous council chair, it is unclear why the evaluations were not completed for the executive director. The responses to the audit began on Page 23. The council and the department concurred with the report conclusions and recommendations. 9:13:10 AM BEV SCHOONOVER, ACTING EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, STATEWIDE SUICIDE PREVENTION COUNCIL, thanked the committee for their work. She noted that she had been acting in the role of executive director since January 2019. She said that the council had been established by the legislature in 2001 and served as an advisory council to the governor and the legislature regarding suicide awareness and prevention. She shared that there were 13 volunteer members, appointed by the governor, and 4 ex-officio members appointed by the legislature. She stated that the council had one, full-time staff member, co-located in the shared offices with the Alaska Mental Health Trust board and the Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. She related that the council met three times per year via video conference, and held one, in-person meeting, per year, typically in a rural community. Ms. Schoonover noted that most of the council's activities involved coordinating collaborative efforts between stakeholders, supporting outreach in educational programs through the Suicide Awareness Prevention and Postvention grant programs, advocating for federal and private funding, and providing technical assistance as needed. She shared that one example of statewide coordination efforts was the completion of the 5-year prevention plan entitled, Recasting the Net: Promoting Wellness to Prevent Suicide in Alaska. She furthered that thanks to extensive public input and stakeholder collaboration hundreds of Alaskans, from all over the state, participated in the creation of the plan. She related that the number one goal identified in the plan by all the stakeholders was that Alaskans accept responsibility for preventing suicide. Ms. Schoonover expressed the belief that all Alaskans have been touched by suicide and had the responsibility to address and reduce the risk of suicide statewide. She said that the council brought Alaskans together to talk about suicide, to evaluate prevention efforts, advised agencies, the governor, and the legislature on how wellness can be promoted, and coordinated state agencies and other entities so that they could work together more effectively to prevent suicide. She noted that no other agency performed the statewide coordinator function. She urged the committee to extend the council through 2027. 9:16:17 AM Co-Chair von Imhof thought Ms. Schoonover had touched on the primary role of the council, which was to coordinate local organizations all over the state. She thought the critical role of connecting resources was important. 9:17:09 AM Senator Bishop asked what Ms. Schoonover had considered to get more resources in communities to address the high rate of suicide in the state. Ms. Schoonover noted that there had been a vacancy in the Division of Behavioral Health for a Prevention Specialist that had recently been filled by Leah van Kirk. She thought Ms. Van Kirk, along with Eric Boyer from AMHTA, and Project Assistant Eric Morrison, working with the council would prove especially fruitful in suicide prevention in 2020. 9:18:33 AM Co-Chair von Imhof commended the council for coordinating across agencies. 9:19:18 AM Co-Chair von Imhof OPENED public testimony. 9:19:43 AM SAM TRIVETTE, JUNEAU SUICIDE PREVENTION COALITION, JUNEAU, thanked Senator Kawasaki and the co-sponsors for sponsoring the bill. It was the third legislative session that he had testified for the extension of the council. He was a survivor of suicide loss. He lost his son to suicide on June 28, 2007. He asserted that the council had linked him to national experts and resources helping to tackle this major public health problem and was the glue that bound together all the people in the state working on suicide prevention issues. He provided several examples of the positive changes he had witnessed due to the work of the council: destigmatizing suicide, The Care Line (Alaskas suicide prevention hotline) had seen a three-fold increase, over the last four fiscal years, to over 21,000 calls in FY 2019. Mr. Trivette discussed suicide prevention efforts in schools. He shared that the data showed that the rate of kids willing to contact an adult with risk concerns was over 42 percent. There had been a substantial increase in hospitals and health care centers that screened for suicide, which was a major change from 5 years ago. He urged the committee to support the extension of the council. 9:24:10 AM BARBARA FRANKS, CHAIR, STATEWIDE SUICIDE PREVENTION, NINILCHIK (via teleconference), testified that she was the mother of a child that died by suicide. Her son had died by suicide on December 14, 1997. She shared that two days later her husband died from cancer. She had known there were people that were advocating for cancer support, but at that time she had not found support groups for suicide. She referenced her colleague Cynthia Erickson, who had been recognized for her work with Grandmas House. She believed that domestic violence, sexual assault, drugs, and alcohol were related to suicide. She said that in 2013, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline had received over a million calls. She said that in 2018, 2,224,408 people had called the number. She expressed deep appreciation for the work of the council and statewide allies. 9:28:37 AM Co-Chair von Imhof thanked Ms. Franks for her powerful testimony. SHARON FISHEL, EDUCATION SPECIALIST, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND EARLY DEVELOPMENT (via teleconference), testified in support of the bill. She had lost her son to suicide in 2010. Co-Chair von Imhof requested further information on how the department coordinated with schools in the state. Ms. Fishel noted that the funding provided through the council was the primary source of funding for suicide and trauma work accomplished through DEED. She stated that the there were currently 23,000 users for online professional development. She said that wile DEED offered many professional development resources to all districts, by far the largest and most popular were the online suicide prevention courses supported by the funding. She relayed that the department also provided competitive school-based suicide prevention grants on a three-year competitive process to up to 10 districts throughout the state. She said that every year schools provided progress reports. She shared that the Nome School District had a youth leaders' program that taught groups of students to be leaders in their communities based on the Natural Helpers Program. She said that these youth were making positive changes in their communities. She relayed that it was difficult to say how many lives had been saved by the programs and she lamented that suicide was the leading cause of death for those 14 to 24-years old in the state. 9:32:26 AM Ms. Fishel believed that school districts were doing phenomenal work across the state. 9:33:06 AM KATIE BOTZ, SELF, MINNESOTA (via teleconference), testified in support of the bill. She thought Alaska was second in the country for its number of suicides. She believed that suicide was a taboo subject. She revealed that she had considered suicide. She lamented that there were many people that did not have an adequate support system. She urged support for the extension of the council. 9:35:54 AM Co-Chair von Imhof CLOSED public testimony. Co-Chair von Imhof listed the people available for questions. 9:36:27 AM AT EASE 9:36:8 AM RECONVENED Co-Chair Stedman discussed FN1 from the Department of Health and Social Services, OMB Component Number 2651. The note showed $648,400 in the governor's FY 20 request, with flat funding for the subsequent five years. Co-Chair von Imhof set the bill aside for further review. SB 10 was HEARD and HELD in committee for further consideration.