University of Nebraska Medical Center

BHECN research ensures work is data driven

A key component of BHECN’s work is its research of Nebraska’s behavioral health workforce, which helps ensure the steps BHECN takes to grow the workforce are backed by data and targeted to meet the real needs of the state.

ratnapradipa_kendra_2023_07_18.pngAn example of BHECN’s research-driven approach occurred in 2022 following the publication of BHECN research in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Rural Mental Health.

The study examined the rates at which Nebraska behavioral health professionals transitioned from being temporarily or provisionally licensed to fully licensed from 2009 to 2019. A main finding was the conversion rates from provisionally licensed to fully licensed in various behavioral health professions was often below 65 percent. This means that in many cases, more than 30% of those training to be behavioral health professionals in Nebraska did not achieve full licensure.

“In a state where 88 of 93 counties are designated as not having enough behavioral health workers, we need to examine and eliminate barriers to getting people licensed and working in these fields,” said Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, PhD, who was the lead author of the paper and who recently completed a seven-year term as BHECN’s Associate Director for Research. “This study helped us explore why significant numbers of workers aren’t achieving full licensure.”

Study findings influenced ARPA funding strategies

Just a few months later, BHECN was able to translate the study’s findings into action when the Nebraska Legislature charged BHECN with allocating $25.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to organizations around the state looking to address the state’s behavioral health workforce shortage and other mental health issues that were created or exacerbated by the pandemic. The findings from the report influenced how BHECN would disseminate the ARPA dollars.

“As a result of our own research, we knew it was important to support projects and organizations around the state that are working to help get more people fully licensed,” said Jessie Buche, MPH, MA, Director of the ARPA Awards Program.

BHECN ultimately allocated about $1.8 million in ARPA funds to support 22 projects that focus on increasing the number of fully licensed behavioral health workers in Nebraska, Buche said.

Workforce dashboard a one-of-a-kind tool

A key feature of BHECN’s research is the Nebraska Behavioral Health Workforce Dashboard – a one-of-a-kind tracking tool that BHECN maintains and that allows researchers to monitor the distribution of behavioral health workers around the state.

The dashboard contains data that provides BHECN staff, university leaders, policymakers and others with information needed to clearly see trends in the state’s behavioral health workforce, including what and where shortages exist, said Kendra Ratnapradipa, PhD, (pictured) who recently took over for Dr. Watanabe-Galloway as BHECN’s Associate Director for Research.

Increased evaluation will make BHECN research even stronger

This data helps BHECN staff, policymakers and other end users determine optimal interventions and strategies for addressing shortages, said Dr. Ratnapradipa, who noted that looking ahead, the next step is to increase evaluation of the data in the dashboard as well as of the programs and interventions that are born from the data.

This evaluation will help ensure efforts to grow and improve the workforce are effective, she said.

“BHECN is in many cases a national leader in behavioral health workforce analysis and research because we are one of the few organizations that collect and explore this type of data,” Dr. Ratnapradipa said. “I am very excited to build off the foundation Dr. Watanabe[1]Galloway laid here as there is vast potential for our data and analysis to improve behavioral health care in our state.”