Suicide surveillance and prevention program goes before Law and Order Committee

WINDOW ROCK - The Navajo Nation Epidemiology Center (NNEC) hopes to start a suicide surveillance project to identify suicide risks and preventative measures.

The Center wants to share information with the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety (NNDOPS) but that is proving difficult according to NNEC epidemiologist Ramona Antone Nez.

On July 28 she told the Law and Order Committee (LOC) it has been difficult for her department to establish a working relationship with the NNDPS and she hoped to receive guidance from the Committee.

"What seems to be the barrier at this point other than collaborating, is they [NNDPS] are concerned with confidentiality and I think they are trying to protect that as well," said LOC vice chair Council Delegate Alton Joe Shepherd (Jeddito, Cornfields, Ganado, Kin Dah Lichii, Steamboat).

Shepherd added that public safety officials have authority over sensitive information on suicide occurrences, which may pose a problem. However, he said the NNEC should have access to demographic information like age, gender and employment for the purpose of understanding and preventing suicides on the Navajo Nation.

According to an NNEC report, in addition to seeking demographical information, NNEC representatives want to accompany public safety officers to the scene of a suicide or attempted suicide as an emergency response unit to help collect information.

LOC member Council Delegate Russell Begaye (Shiprock) said he supports the Suicide Surveillance System Project. He asked the NNEC if their department is willing to provide money or staff to travel to the suicide scenes or to produce reports at the police stations.

"I only ask this because our police officers get so bogged down with writing reports and if you require additional reporting from them, it may cause officers to fall behind on their work," Begaye said.

Begaye suggested the NNEC request a meeting between the directors of the Navajo Nation Division of Health and Division of Public Safety as a starting point to establish a relationship between both divisions to begin the information sharing process.

In addition to the NNEC report, LOC members considered Legislation No. 0177-14, which aims to adopt the Healthy Diné Nation Act of 2014. That act would impose an additional two-percent sales tax on food items that are considered to have minimal to no nutritional value. The committee ruled the legislation out of order because of technicalities found within the legislation language.

The committee will consider the legislation again Aug. 11.

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