Tag Archives: mental health

Dr. Sonia Blauvelt Helps Lead Suicide Prevention Project for Southeast La

The Mental Health Association for Greater Baton Rouge is implementing a
COVID-19 Emergency Response for Suicide Prevention Project in southeast Louisiana to help contain the expected increase in mental health problems for Louisiana citizens. The project includes several components and Baton Rouge psychologist, Dr. Sonia Blauvelt, is leading the suicide prevention program.

The announcement from the Association noted that: Socially and financially disadvantaged families are more vulnerable to stresses and traumas, and the risk
for mental health problems and domestic violence increases after families face
extreme adversity, such as those related to COVID-19 disruptions and trauma.

Blauvelt explained, “We identified these areas of southeast Louisiana as
having high rates of COVID19 infection and deaths, high rates of intimate partner violence, and poor health outcomes overall,” she said. “These factors leave individuals even more vulnerable to deterioration in mental health in addition to having limited resources.”

The project is funded by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and managed through the Louisiana Department of Health, Office of Behavioral Health.

There is a great need for community based services for people with suicidal thoughts
and behaviors,” said Blauvelt, “and we hope this program will reduce the high level of
hospitalizations and inpatient stays for people who experience higher risk of suicide.”

In her role, Blauvelt helps case managers implement the suicide case management program and she will provide clinical supervision and intervention when necessary. “I also work to partner with general hospitals and mental health hospitals in the regions
we are serving to identify individuals who may need suicide prevention services so that we can get referrals to our program,” she said.

Dr. Blauvelt is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Baton Rouge. Her PhD is from Louisiana State University and she interned at the Charlie Norwood VA/Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia where she specialized in treating
Veterans with military sexual trauma. She currently treats PTSD, trauma-related disorders, and anxiety disorders, with special attention to cultural factors related to mental health.

Dr. Blauvelt is working closely with LSU assistant professor of psychology, Dr. Raymond Tucker, who founded the LSU Mitigation of Suicidal Behavior research laboratory. He is clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at LSUHSC/OLOL, and trains medical staff/students in suicide-specific assessment and intervention protocols.

Dr. Tucker is also the co-director of the National Suicidology Training Center where he
provides training on suicide-specific interventions, including suicide safety planning,
post-vention programming, and motivational interviewing for suicide prevention.

Dr. Tucker said, “In tandem with Frank Campbell and the National Suicidology Training Center, I have helped develop the suicide case management program and train peer support providers and other staff at the Mental Health Association in this program,” he said.

“The program uses a variety of clinical and follow-up techniques that have been found to reduce risk for suicide in adults after receiving care in emergency facilities. The program particularly uses the Safety Planning Intervention and Caring Contacts to help support at-risk adults as they get setup and started with outpatient clinical services. My
own research, in collaboration with researchers at VA Puget Sound in Seattle, has investigated specific ways of using Caring Contacts after people leave acute care facilities and best practices for how to create these contact cards,” he explained.

The COVID-19 Emergency Response for Suicide Prevention Project includes four main components, according to the Mental Health Association (MHA).

Case Management for individuals who have attempted suicide or are identified as having chronic suicide ideation. This includes all of the following elements – screening,
assessment, safety planning and means restriction, discharge planning, transition care, warm hand offs to treatment or community organizations.

Another component is First Responder and other Health Care Professionals Suicide Prevention Training, partnering with the National Suicidology Training Center to provide more trainings on suicide prevention and Postvention strategies for first responders and providers across the state.

For Suicide Prevention Training for the general public, the Association is partnering with
the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Louisiana Chapter to provide statewide
suicide prevention training for the general public, including both safe Talk and ASIST
prevention training.

The fourth component is Suicide Prevention Outreach to Domestic Violence Victims. The Association is partnering with Southeastern Louisiana University, Discovery/Renew Family Resource Projects to establish an advocative role for domestic violence victims and establish a relationship with shelters and other domestic violence coalitions and resources to address trauma.

One challenge for Dr. Blauvelt and Dr. Tucker is getting the word out and networking.

“A major difficulty is networking with all the different hospitals and clinics in the area to ensure that the program is known, understood, and offered to the correct patients,” said Tucker.

“I echo Ray’s sentiments,” said Blauvelt, “about difficulty networking and ensuring that only eligible people are referred. Although we have hired and trained half of the staff needed to begin services, we continue to recruit case managers/peer support specialists to finalize our team. It is a challenge to hire the right individuals to do this critical work. We are confident we will have a full team soon,” she said.

“We are actively accepting and seeking clients in the program. MHA continues to finalize formal agreements with community partners necessary to fully implement this program. The training element of this grant is also underway. The National Suicidology Training Center has completed two first responder trainings. The National Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Louisiana Chapter has also completed two trainings to the general public,” Blauvelt explained. “MHA is also working with the Family Resource Center in Southeastern University to target victims of domestic violence who are at greater risk for suicide.”

Dr. Tucker said, “We hope a program like this is a part of growing community efforts to
prevent suicide in Louisiana.”

[For additional information contact Dr. Blauvelt at https://www.drblauvelt.com/]

Psychologist Blows Whistle on New Orleans VA Procedures

A New Orleans psychologist was at the center of a CBS News investigative report that
aired last month finding that the New Orleans VA may not have been diagnosing enough veterans so that they could be treated adequately for traumatic brain injury (TBI), the signature wound of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

CBS investigative reporter Jim Axelrod broke the story, “Whistleblower says veteran
affairs dramatically under diagnosed traumatic brain injuries.” Louisiana
psychologist Dr. Frederic Sautter was key to the report.

Go to CBS online for the full report.

Axelrod reported on the heartbreaking story of Army Sergeant Daniel Murphy
who served five decorated combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Murphy
specialized in detonating explosives and was honorably discharged in According to the
report, Murphy suffered both physically and psychologically. “He had the classic symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder –insomnia, anxiety, and a feeling that the
enemy was lurking around every corner,“ said Axelrod.

According to the CBS report, VA sources confirmed that Murphy screened positive for
traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2017. However, he did not receive a final TBI diagnosis or treatment. Two months later he took his own life at 32 years old.

The report notes that suicide is twice as high in veterans with TBI than in those with PTSD only.

Cases like Sergeant Murphy’s haunted Dr. Sautter, said Axelrod. Dr. Sautter retired recently from the VA, but until that time he headed up the family mental health program at Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System in New Orleans. Dr. Sautter saw hundreds of vets coming home from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and began to become suspicious that they were not being properly assessed for TBI, said the CBS reporter.

Sautter told Axelrod that many of his patients, who were suffering from PTSD, appeared to also be presenting symptoms of traumatic brain injury. However, they had not been diagnosed or treated for the injury and this was a concern to him. So, Sautter set out to try and understand what was happening and he did his own research into the numbers.

According to Axelrod’s investigation, the VA protocol requires that all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are screened for TBI and a positive screen then leads to further evaluation. Reporting on internal documents from the VA, Axelrod noted that most vets who receive a positive screen are ultimately diagnosed with TBI.

CBS found that 60% to 80% of patients who are positive on the screening, across all the VA hospitals, are ultimately diagnosed and receive treatment for TBI.

However, Dr. Sautter found that at the New Orleans VA this number was only 18%.

According to the report, Dr. Sautter brought his results and list of the veterans who had slipped through the cracks to colleagues at the Pain Management & Rehabilitation (PM&R) division at the VA. A nurse at the division, Priscilla Peltier, told CBS that “There was absolutely no treatment being provided to them.”

In October 2017, Peltier presented a plan to her boss, the chief of PM&R, Dr. Robert Mipro, for contacting the veterans on the list. Peltier told CBS that Dr. Mipro responded that the list was not their concern and to “lose the list.”

Dr. Sautter insisted that the VA to investigate his concerns first through the Inspector General and then through the Office of Special Counsel.

CBS said the Office of Special Counsel ordered an investigation by the VA Medical Inspector and produced a report in March 2019. CBS said that the report was not made public but confirmed the New Orleans relatively low TBI diagnosis.

However CBS then contacted a VA spokes person who said the Medical Inspector’s report had used “bad data” and that the TBI diagnosis rates in New Orleans were in line with the national average.

Dr. Sautter is not optimistic about changes at the VA. “No one on staff will convince VA to change their practice and take responsibility,” he explained to the Times last week.

“Their focus is on their image and maintaining good numbers. The current PM&R staff is quite good. The issue is prior patients not receiving evaluations need to be contacted and assessed,” he said.

“I am now retired from VA and have a private practice. There have not been negative consequences for me except the anxiety of the experience and disappointment at the total denial by the institution and alienation from the institution,” he said.

Dr. Sautter was the Manager of a Family Mental Health Program at a VA Med Center for many years, and treated hundreds of couples and individuals. He is an expert in traumatic stress and relationship problems and has treated hundreds of combat veterans to help them overcome a variety of stress problems, providing compassionate evidence-informed care to individuals that have had to endure immense emotional pain, according to Psychology Today’s provider information.

Asked how it was to work with CBS News, he said, “CBS was very professional, vetted everything with attorneys, and put a great deal of effort into it. They were impressive.”

Has he experienced retaliation? “I feel like I did the right thing and veterans have communicated appreciation,” he said. “The reaction of the institution was total denial. I would never encourage anyone to do it unless they were in the later stages of career and could accept leaving the institution (VA). The nurse who complained was retaliated against but I never felt like anyone was going to try to intimidate me.”

His thoughts for other psychologists? “If important protocols are not enacted it is
your duty to report it. Do not expect gratitude from anyone at the institution but it is very satisfying knowing that you stood up for what you believe in,” he said.