Legislature approves bills to expand health care workforce

by Bill O'Neill, UNMC strategic communications | April 14, 2022

Image with caption: UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD

The Nebraska Legislature approved several bills this week to provide ongoing funding for expanding UNMC programs in Kearney and for behavioral health programming throughout the state.

The first is LB 792, which provides ongoing annual funding for expanded UNMC programs at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Other bills included LB 1068 and corresponding appropriations bill LB 1068A, which provide additional educational opportunities through the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN) for psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners and physician assistants. LB 1068 also expands support for psychology internships; adds support for one-year mental health therapy internships; and adds support for BHECN sites across the state. Both bills have been forwarded to Gov. Pete Ricketts for his signature.

"The funding provided in these bills will make tremendous strides in alleviating health care workforce shortages throughout the state, particularly in rural Nebraska," Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, said. "Legislators should be commended for their foresight and diligence in approving this important legislation that breathes life into these important areas."

In addition, LB 792 provides $500,000 in 2022-23, $9 million in 2023-24 and $15 million in 2024-25. 

Last week, the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding bill passed the Legislature, and Gov. Ricketts signed the bill this week. This included $25.5 million in federal funds for BHECN, including funding for graduate and post-graduate education opportunities, expansion of tele-behavioral health services in rural areas, education and training for COVID-19 related behavioral health issues and stipends for licensed behavioral health professionals. It also included $10 million in federal funds for startup costs related to the UNK-UNMC Rural Health Complex in Kearney and $50 million of federal funds to cover a part of the construction costs of the facility.

BHECN, the state’s behavioral health workforce development center administered at UNMC, was created in 2009 to address Nebraska’s behavioral health workforce shortages. Its efforts in recruiting, training and retaining behavioral health professionals have 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.

Lyndon Johnson
April 17, 2022 at 10:57 PM

BHECN was ahead of it's time in 2009. Just saw an article over the weekend where others states are just now starting specific programs to address the staffing shortages in this field of healthcare. Congrats and Keep up the Great Work.

Senator Mike Jacobson
April 17, 2022 at 2:10 PM

Happy to support this great piece of Legislation that brings much needed educational opportunities to greater Nebraska. Senator Mike Jacobson.

Carmen Sirizzotti
April 14, 2022 at 6:13 AM

Awesome News!