Nebraska legislature holds first hearing to identify solutions to mental health care shortages

Posted at 6:19 PM, Sep 20, 2023

LINCOLN, Neb (KMTV) — A lot of attention has been paid post-pandemic to the growing shortage of teachers and nurses facing Nebraska communities, but there is one shortage that many in the state were facing pre-pandemic that has only gotten worse in recent years.

“The nursing shortage got national, even global attention. But, there is an even greater shortage of licensed clinical therapists. Job postings that used to have two to three applicants will now sit untouched for weeks and even months. It’s not just clinical positions it’s all of the roles impacting our system,” said Tami Lewis-Ahrendt, CEO of Centerpointe Addiction and Mental Health Treatment.

Lawmakers in Nebraska are hoping LR202, introduced by Omaha Senator John Fredrickson, might lead to solutions for the shortages.

The interim study held its first hearing on Wednesday with providers and mental health advocates breaking down the challenges they are facing.

“As a mental health professional myself, I have seen many of these issues firsthand. The struggle is real and we must do more,” said Senator Fredrickson.

Cost, regulations and licenses were among the top barriers that providers shared at the hearing.

Providers say licensing in particular has been challenging to work through, with many providers being forced to wait months before prospective hires are licensed to practice in Nebraska.

“I have sent three emails in the last month and gotten no response from the licensure division, so I don’t know what the hold-up is. We have an individual who has been waiting 6 months to get their license,” said Lewis-Ahrendt.

While the study has just begun some solutions were offered by providers and advocates.

Almost all said increased provider rates would help them provide more services and some suggested interstate compacts could be used to improve license reciprocity for providers coming from out of state.

“We want to be part of the solution. We are skilled at innovating under pressure, being creative in response to needs and most of all doing a lot with a little,” said Lewis-Ahrendt.

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