Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska at UNMC Receives $3.7 Million Grant

Five-year grant aimed at providing mental health training and technical assistance to groups and professionals in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri

The Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) has received a five-year, $3.7 million collaborative grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Mid-American Mental Health Technology & Transfer Center (MHTTC) grant will provide mental health training and technical assistance to behavioral health-focused agencies and 87 community health centers. It also will benefit behavioral health professionals, schools, federally qualified health centers, state agencies such as divisions of behavioral health, regional associations of behavioral health providers and individual providers in a four-state region, which includes Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri.

“In the last two years the grants we’ve received have tripled the initial funding of $1.5 million that came out of the state legislature, and that support has been so instrumental in getting the center where it is today,” said Howard Liu, M.D., director of BHECN and co-project director of the grant.

The grant also is a reflection of the expertise BHECN has.

“BHECN was chosen to receive the award due to its history with training and consultation across mental health topics,” said Joe Evans, Ph.D., project director of the grant and professor of psychology at the Munroe-Meyer Institute at UNMC.

The grant will focus on four areas, he said, including:

A goal of the grant is to develop expertise in each state so the initiatives can be sustained once the grant is done, Dr. Evans said.

They plan to do this, he said, by providing intensive training of trainers within integrated behavioral health and primary clinical care settings and putting together a resource toolkit.

“But it’s more than just conducting workshops,” Dr. Evans said. “The purpose is to implement evidenced-based practices in these states.”

It’s an important aspect of the grant that MHTTC grant program coordinator Bill Baerentzen, Ph.D., is particularly happy about.

An expert who has spent his career working with people who suffer from serious mental illness, Dr. Baerentzen knows how important continuity of care is.

“Many of these best practices have been around for decades but are not widely available because they need intense and ongoing support to be sustained over time,” said Dr. Baerentzen, who also is the mental health project coordinator with BHECN.

Dr. Baerentzen said people who suffer with serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or major depression, can and do live meaningful, independent lives with supportive services that help them find and keep employment, and develop housing and social skills that allow them to better form relationships with friends and family.

“We estimate that four to six percent of the population struggle with serious mental illness in our region. Many of those persons do not receive the most effective treatment and rehabilitative services and therefore do not establish independence. We hope that this grant can change that dynamic,” Dr. Baerentzen said.

The National Coordinating Center located at Stanford University and the University of Missouri at Kansas City will develop a portion of the overall national agenda, while BHECN will develop a regional agenda for the four-state partnership, Dr. Evans said.

Implementation will happen in phases starting with a review of needs assessments and development of regional teams in the areas of focus within each of the four states.

BHECN was created in 2009 when the Nebraska legislature passed LB 603 to address the statewide crisis in mental health access. Since then, BHECN has received two national awards and is considered a best practice for innovative programs to recruit and retain licensed mental health professionals in rural and urban communities. Housed at UNMC, BHECN has a unique partnership with all of the graduate behavioral health training programs in Nebraska and is dedicated to improving access to behavioral health care across the state. For more information about BHECN, visit or follow it on Facebook and Twitter.