The Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN) recently released its legislative report that highlights a nearly 17% increase in behavioral health providers in Nebraska from 2010 to 2018.
"Families in Nebraska often travel long distances or face long wait times before seeing a behavioral health provider," said Marley Doyle, M.D., director of BHECN. "We are working with partners across Nebraska addressing the behavioral health workforce shortage, with a goal of improving access and maintaining high-quality care.
"With the increased awareness of the shortage, many people are invested in finding a solution," Dr. Doyle said. "We are continuously working to create innovative ways of recruiting and retaining our workforce. We have experienced growth in some areas. Most notably, we have seen a major increase in the number of psychiatric nurse practitioners."
She said the shortage of behavioral health professionals in Nebraska is illustrated clearly by the following facts:
- 81 of 93 counties meet federal criteria as Mental Health Professions Shortage Areas;
- 33 counties lack a behavioral health provider of any kind; and
- The behavioral health workforce is aging, with more than 50% over the age of 50.
As part of BHECN's strategy to grow Nebraska's rural behavioral health workforce, in July 2015, BHECN added a Kearney location at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, led by Tina Chasek, Ph.D. It serves as BHECN's "rural hub" for training and workforce development in the central and western parts of the state.
In 2017, BHECN committed to hosting the annual conferences in the Nebraska Panhandle, and partnered with Cate Jones-Hazledine, Ph.D., with Western Nebraska Behavioral Health to create the Rural Provider Support Network. In 2019, BHECN added a Nebraska Panhandle location at Chadron State College, which is led by co-directors Dr. Jones-Hazledine and Tara Wilson, Ph.D.
"The network connects a community of professionals who might not otherwise meet each other and helps break down those feelings of being the only professional in an area," Dr. Jones-Hazledine said. "By adding a BHECN site at Chadron State College, it allows us to expand our outreach efforts in western Nebraska. This relationship will help us to continue to foster growth in the number of providers in rural, frontier and underserved areas of the state."
Through strong partnerships with academic programs, state government and community partners, BHECN has utilized state funding and federal grants to connect trainees with training opportunities, especially in rural and underserved communities.
Integrated behavioral health clinics (primary care clinics integrated with a behavioral health provider), psychiatric hospitals and community-based centers serve as training sites for multi-disciplinary trainees.
In support of the existing workforce, BHECN provides live and online training to clinical providers, educators, trainees, community organizations and individuals.
"Disparities in access to behavioral health services are particularly significant in rural Nebraska communities where adults, youth and children with mental illness may not receive treatment," said Grace Mims, Ph.D., interim dean in the College of Education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. "Kearney's collaboration with training programs around the state has been successful in attracting students to mental health and addiction programs, which has led to record enrollment for UNK's Clinical Mental Health Counseling program for 2019."
Dr. Doyle said BHECN and its partners also are building the behavioral health workforce through a student-based Ambassador Program.
"Creating impactful educational experiences for college and graduate students to interact with behavioral health providers is important," Dr. Doyle said. "We also place behavioral health trainees in clinical rotations and internships, reaching all corners of the state to help shape their careers and encourage them to stay and work in Nebraska."