Preparing VA staff for suicidal Veterans through Mental Health Escape Rooms

Suicide prevention is paramount to VA’s care of Veterans, but how does VA prepare its staff for an encounter with a Veteran who is considering taking their own life, and how do you ensure that the process of saving a Veteran’s life is learned, understood and retained for real-world situations? One of the answers is using simulation Escape Rooms to prepare VA staff for interventions.

VA Black Hills Healthcare System (HCS) in Fort Meade, South Dakota, created a mental health escape room called “Don’t Wait, Reach Out” to prepare its staff to encounter suicidal patients. The education tool was implemented during September Suicide Prevention Month. Learners were presented with a simulated suicidal patient that required appropriate interventions to ‘escape’ the room. Through the escape room, participants needed to demonstrate effective team communication, complete a safety room sweep and implement alterations in care for the patient. The escape room simulation was delivered to every unit at VA Black Hills HCS and community-based outpatient clinics (CBOCs) with modifications made to the scenario and environment based on the practice setting.

Mental Health escape rooms provide many training benefits

Successful suicide prevention escape roomEscape rooms are gamification modalities that use hidden puzzles for participants to solve in order to get to the next clue and complete the objectives of the game. Escape rooms also have rules, such time constraints, limited tools and specific resources participants can utilize. In this way, escape rooms provide teams the opportunity to practice communication, clinical skills, leadership, team building, and problem solving in a dynamic and innovative new way for training.

Escape rooms have proven to be a successful training tool for VA staff to learn while being engaged with best practices and learning important processes. It is one of the emerging mechanisms that VA’s Simulation Learning, Evaluation, Assessment, and Research Network (SimLEARN) uses to support training efforts across VHA. When escape rooms have been used at VA, participants show better engagement, use more teamwork and report stronger understanding than with a standard course training. This success is backed by outside research as well.

Participants at the VA Black Hills HCS—who represent a diverse group of learners, including licensed practical nurses, registered nurses (RN), nursing assistants, social workers, chaplains, housekeeping, providers, the RN Transition-to-Practice program and respiratory therapy professionals—found the training highly impactful. All the staff surveys reported enjoying the escape room and that the room improved understanding of the importance of communication in a crisis situation.

Veterans thinking about hurting or killing themselves or others, experiencing an emotional crisis, feeling hopeless or engaging in self-destructive behavior such as drug abuse should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Press 1 for Veterans.

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Force for Health® Network News, My Healthy Veteran

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