Preventing veteran suicides takes a community effort

Volunteer group from Good Samaritan Society intervenes before crises hit

Blue monument sign on hilly road reads "Good Samaritan Society - Mountain Home"

A whopping 33% of the residents living at Good Samaritan Society – Mountain Home in Arkansas are military veterans. It’s a uniquely high number and a patriotic group assisted living manager Jennifer Batesel cares a great deal about.

“I’m proud that Sanford Health and Good Samaritan Society support our veterans in our community and engage with them because they’re the reason we’re here and able to do what we do,” Batesel says.

While Batesel never served in the armed forces, her dad and uncle spent time in the Army. Her nephew is still serving actively as a soldier.

Making sure vets in her care are engaged with the community and living with purpose is a top priority for Batesel and staff at her location.

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“They have a history and that history is just paramount in the foundation for this great country we live in and that we call home each and every day. It’s so important to learn the history and understand these individuals and what they’ve given to each and every one of us,” Society administrator Chad Huebner says about their sacrifices.

Understanding local veterans and connecting them to services is a community mission. A mission that is also saving lives by reducing suicides in the area.

Preventing suicide in Baxter County

According to a 2021 census, 42,000 people live in Baxter County, Arkansas, where Mountain Home is located. Nearly 5,000 are veterans.

“When you look at that, it actually compares with several large urban areas across the nation in number of veterans,” Huebner says.

Unfortunately in 2015, more than two people a month in Baxter County were dying by suicide.

“We’ve reduced that quite a bit over the years and a lot of that has to do with the work that Dan (Hall) and other DAV (Disabled American Veterans) members were doing. Good Sam was right alongside of them to offer up whatever assistance we could,” Batesel says.

Dan Hall is a Marine Corps and Vietnam veteran. He’s also the commander of DAV Chapter 30 in Mountain Home.

With some grant funding, Hall has organized an annual veterans appreciation picnic and assembled a crew to find those struggling with housing, employment and other factors.

“We called it the veterans engagement team. The idea was to find these veterans who are not in the system before they’re in crisis and help solve some of those problems,” Hall says.

‘Extremely impressed with this campus’

Batesel, who leads a Society volunteer group of around 100, offered support immediately.

“No matter where I go, it seemed like Jennifer and her volunteers were there doing something. As far as the community outreach, I’m extremely impressed with this campus,” Hall says.

Not only does the Society help host the annual picnic that feeds 500, Batesel studied to become a QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer) suicide prevention instructor.

“This class teaches you to be aware of suicide and the signs and symptoms of it and how to react and how to get them help,” Batesel says.

In addition to Batesel teaching community members how to identify those at risk of suicide, the Society campus is also home to a DAV auxiliary that meets once a month.

“Both feet in. Jump in full force. Whatever we can do to help because I, in my life here in Mountain Home, realize the importance of the veterans,” Huebner says about offering Society facilities to help vets.

Local program now a model for others

Dedication like that is why many are now highlighting the county as an example of how to show up for veterans.

“Our program has been successful because it became a community program, in no small part to what they did here at the Good Samaritan campus,” Hall says.

“The whole community is involved in this thing to the point where we are asked now to help other communities take our framework and run with it.”

The number of suicides in Baxter County was 16 in 2018 and three in 2021.

Sanford Health and the Good Samaritan Society strive to be a provider and employer of choice for military veterans.

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Posted In Behavioral Health, Senior Services, Veterans