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Teen Suicide Foundation Expands

Prevention: Partnership with Nashville hospital chain pumps more than $1.2 million into program begun after 16-year-old's death.

July 21, 2002|From Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Five years after 16-year-old Jason Flatt killed himself with his father's pistol, a suicide prevention foundation founded by his dad is expanding its national presence.

The Jason Foundation, started in his hometown of Hendersonville, has formed a partnership with Ardent Health Services, a Nashville-based hospital chain.

Ardent will establish suicide prevention centers for teens at hospitals in Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Sacramento, company CEO David T. Vandewater said this week.

The centers will feature hot lines and school-based programs affiliated with the Jason Foundation, the organization that Jason's father, Clark Flatt, runs from a couple of suites in a small Hendersonville office building.

Flatt estimated the value of services that Ardent will provide the foundation at more than $1.2 million.

Vandewater said Ardent, a for-profit health care firm, hopes gradually to expand its Jason Foundation alliance to "all 22 of our behavioral hospitals in the company," which also has hospitals in Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana and Virginia.

The Jason Foundation, which uses teens to counsel other teens, has spread to schools in 47 states, including more than 160 Tennessee high schools, officials said.

Despondent over a school relationship, Jason Flatt shot himself to death five years ago this week, his father said.

The high school fullback was one of 47 Tennesseans ages 13 to 19 who killed themselves that year, state records show.

Nationally, more than 3 million American youths seriously considered suicide and more than 1 million attempted it in 2000, the U.S. Health Department reported recently.

In Clark Flatt's view, though, the official numbers are low.

Many youth deaths reported as accidents, such as drug overdoses and single-car accidents with no apparent mechanical failure, are likely intentional acts, Flatt said.

After his son's death, the insurance business owner started leaving more and more work to employees while he enlisted teens, teachers and parents to focus attention on the problem.

Within two years, he was devoting all his time to the foundation, he said.

The foundation's medical advisory board includes former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher. University of Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer serves as national spokesman.

Fulmer joined the effort in 1998 after the organization's first "teen board" suggested the foundation try to enlist him.

The foundation was barely six months old and just trying to move from parent seminars into the schools, said Flatt, who doubted the cause could get Fulmer involved. But the board sent Fulmer a letter asking for help and he called Flatt a week later.

"He said, 'If you're looking for just a name, I'm not interested.' He wanted to be involved."

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