University of Nebraska Medical Center

Former Sen. John Stinner and others recognized at BHECN awards dinner

As leader of the Nebraska Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee, former Sen. John Stinner (pictured at the top left) bhecnawardwinners_cropped.jpg held a uniquely powerful post that allowed him to help direct how state tax dollars were invested.

In that role, the lawmaker from Gering proved to be a strong champion for behavioral health, said Erin Schneider, EdD, BHECN’s Deputy Director.  

“Sen. Stinner often worked directly to ensure the state budget included strong funding for key behavioral health issues,” Dr. Schneider said.

Two examples of Stinner’s behavioral health advocacy occurred in 2022, his last in the Legislature, when Stinner worked to:

  • Increase BHECN’s annual operating budget; and
  • Allocate $25.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to BHECN to distribute to organizations throughout the state to address Nebraska’s behavioral health workforce shortage and behavioral health issues that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thanks to his efforts to advance behavioral health care, BHECN presented Stinner with the 2023 BHECN Distinguished Service Award during the organization’s recent annual awards dinner.

The Distinguished Service Award is the highest honor bestowed by BHECN and is presented to individuals who provide inspirational leadership, service, advocacy, and heart in support of behavioral health workforce development in Nebraska.

“Sen. Stinner deeply understands the importance of behavioral health care and its impact on the state as a whole,” said BHECN Director Marley Doyle, MD. “This understanding allowed him to make vital contributions that will improve the health and well-being for many Nebraskans for years to come.”

Robin Conyers, Dr. Cecilia Poon receive BHECN Ambassador Award

Four others received awards at the dinner including Robin Conyers (pictured bottom right) and Cecilia Poon, PhD, (pictured bottom left) who received the 2023 Ambassador Award. The award recognizes individuals for outstanding efforts in mentoring the future behavioral health workforce in Nebraska.

Conyers -- Vice President of Behavioral Services for CHI Health/Central Division of CommonSpirit Health -- has spearheaded the development of a long list of behavioral health programs and initiatives across the entire state.

She also has been diligent in seeking grant funding opportunities for those she works with and has supported them and their endeavors in many other ways, her nominator wrote.

“Robin is very gifted at developing and nurturing personal relationships with everyone she meets,” her nominator wrote. “This creates a compassionate atmosphere of teamwork, everyone working together, across disciplines, programs and cultures caring for the most vulnerable patients in the area.”

Dr. Poon is a staff psychologist in the Nebraska Medicine Department of Psychology, training director of the Clinical Health Psychology Pre-Doctoral Internship at Nebraska Medicine and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the UNMC Department of Psychiatry. She was honored for her extensive work in geriatric mental health.

Dr. Poon, who has worked in Nebraska since 2011, has led numerous initiatives and efforts to improve care for the elderly and improve education for those who care for geriatric patients with behavioral health conditions.

“Dr. Poon is the most earnest advocate for the mental health care of the elderly, regardless of any other demographic identifier, I have been honored to know,” one of her nominators wrote. “Her energy, enthusiasm and care go beyond the pale and have inspired countless trainees in many fields to attend to and improve the lot of mentally ill elderly. We are privileged to have her here in Nebraska.”

Kearney pediatrician receives Champion Award

Kenton Shaffer, MD, (pictured top right) a retired pediatrician from Kearney, received the BHECN Champion Award, which recognizes outstanding service and outreach to the behavioral health community by a student, trainee or health care professional.

Dr. Shaffer practiced in the Kearney area for more than 52 years and was a long-time advocate for integrating mental health care into medical care. He worked on a variety of fronts to raise awareness of and support for the need to increase behavioral health care including working to educate providers, patients and others about the need to integrate behavioral health into medical care. He has worked to increase behavioral health education opportunities, and this has included being a strong partner and supporter of BHECN since its inception. Presently Dr. Shaffer is working to ensure BHECN, and mental/behavioral health are represented and actively integrated into the education/training at UNMC, including at the medical education training facility that will soon open at the University of Nebraska Kearney campus.

“Dr. Shaffer was, and continues to be, a champion of mental health care through lifetime involvement in various community organizations that promote holistic wellness,” his nominator wrote.

Omaha developmental disabilities advocate receives BHECN’s Courage Award

Laurie Halpenny of Omaha (pictured bottom center) received the BHECN Courage Award. The award recognizes outstanding service and outreach to the behavioral health community by a consumer of behavioral health services or a family member.

Halpenny has one son with autism and another son with ADHD. For more than a decade, she has advocated on many levels to improve opportunities for and the lives of children and particularly teens with developmental disabilities. Halpenny has served at an Easter Seals camp, helped with the Special Olympics, and Sheltering Tree, an assisted living community that supports those with developmental disabilities.

“The scope of her actions are apparent in her advocacy and grassroots efforts to improve the lives of all individuals with developmental disabilities,” her nominator wrote. “She has been demonstrating advocacy for over 10 years and sustains motivation to help this vulnerable population.”