SUMMARY OF: A Sunset Review of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council, Department of Health and Social Services, November 4, 2008.

Purpose of the Report

In accordance with Titles 24 and 44 of the Alaska Statutes, we have reviewed the activities of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council (SSPC or council) to determine if there is a demonstrated public need for its continued existence and if it has been operating in an efficient and effective manner.

Report Conclusions

Overall, we found that the council is operating in the public interest and spearheading efforts that are necessary to address the public health concern of suicide. Therefore, we recommend the legislature extend the termination date of the council to June 30, 2013. The four year extension is recommended because of issues discussed in the Findings and Recommendations.

Findings and Recommendations

The council’s prior audit contained four recommendations. Three of the four recommendations have either been resolved or are no longer current issues. The prior recommendation regarding timely appointments to the council is re-addressed below as Recommendation No. 2.

Recommendation No. 1

TSSPC should, in accordance with statutes, appoint its own coordinator and perform annual performance reviews.

The current SSPC coordinator was not appointed in accordance with the statutes. Effective July 1, 2008, the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) assigned SSPC coordinator responsibilities to the Prevention and Early Intervention section manager in the Division of Behavioral Health (DBH). This SSPC coordinator appointment was not made in accordance with the statutes and appears to diminish SSPC’s autonomy and independent voice with the governor and legislature.

We recommend that the council either accept the current coordinator through a formal vote or initiate actions to hire a new coordinator. In addition, it is critical that the council conduct annual performance evaluations as required by statute, particularly if the coordinator is a DBH employee. Only through the council’s interest in remaining autonomous can its independent voice be assured.

Recommendation No. 2

The legislature should consider modifying the composition of council membership..

The composition of the council’s membership is established in AS 44.29.300 and includes very specific qualifications which have created difficulties in filling the positions. Vacancies combined with low attendance rates make it difficult for the council to establish a quorum at its meetings.

The legislature should consider changes to AS 44.29.300 to broaden the qualifications of council members to ensure that appointees are interested in the work of the council and can make the time commitment necessary to serve. Additionally, consideration should be given to making legislative members non-voting to prevent potential quorum issues.