Funding would expand behavioral health workforce

by Bill O'Neill, UNMC strategic communications | March 07, 2022

Image with caption: Marley Doyle, MD

Marley Doyle, MD

More than 95 percent of Nebraska’s counties are classified as behavioral health professional shortage areas; nearly one-third of counties, in fact, have no behavioral health professionals at all.

Several bills under consideration in the Nebraska Legislature would provide more behavioral health resources to the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN).

A three-bill package, introduced by Sen. John Stinner, addresses the behavioral health workforce shortage. LB 1066 would provide $28 million in one-time funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and LB 1067 would provide $10 million in ongoing, annual support. The latter bill would fund changes outlined in LB 1068, which amends BHECN’s statute to more sufficiently address statewide behavioral health workforce shortages.

Together, the bills would help ensure Nebraskans have access to competent, passionate behavioral health professionals, regardless of where they live, said Marley Doyle, MD, director of BHECN and assistant professor in the UNMC Department of Psychiatry.

"These funds will provide needed support for the future workforce, ensuring that even after ARPA funding ends, we will have a robust community of behavioral health professionals in all areas of the state," Dr. Doyle said. "BHECN will ensure all of this funding is wisely invested through a collaborative effort with behavioral health stakeholders across the state."

BHECN was created in 2009 to address Nebraska’s behavioral health workforce shortages. Its efforts in recruiting, training and retaining behavioral health professionals has resulted in a 38% increase in those providers across the state. 

Despite these efforts, workforce shortages and disparities persist, and those have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Funding from the bills, Dr. Doyle said, would be used in several general areas: providing training opportunities in the form of internships and practicums in rural Nebraska; expanding telebehavioral health services in rural areas of the state; providing one-time training and education to help support all sectors of the behavioral health workforce impacted by the pandemic; and expansion of BHECN workforce development centers to three other behavioral health regions in Nebraska.

Tom Magnuson, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at UNMC, testified in support of LB 1066. He said that expansion of telebehavioral health services could especially benefit vulnerable populations.

"I currently provide telepsychiatry services to 135 sites across out-state Nebraska, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other underserved areas of the state," said Dr. Magnuson, who has done telepsychiatry for 20 years. "There are very few geriatric psychiatrists in the country, let alone Nebraska, and telepsychiatry is a sustainable way to provide quality services to some of our most vulnerable populations."

The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee is considering LB 1066 and LB 1067, while the Health and Human Services Committee recently voted 7-0 to advance LB 1068 to the full Legislature.

"We are appreciative of Sen. Stinner recognizing the need for more behavioral health professionals in the state," Dr. Doyle said. "Ultimately, this would mean that the citizens of Nebraska would have better access to these services, across the state."

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