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Amount of behavioral health professionals in Nebraska doesn't match the demand

Problem is more evident in rural areas
Posted at 12:21 PM, Jan 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-03 13:25:35-05

OMAHA, Neb.(KMTV) — Behavioral health needs in the State of Nebraska have increased over the past few years. Experts say a number of reasons have added to that need.

"One being there’s a greater awareness of mental health over the past five years or so and I think we’re doing a better job of talking about it and normalizing it," said Marley Doyle, Director of the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska. "The other reason is pandemic related. I think we’ve seen an increase of substance use. We’ve seen an increase of anxiety and depression rates."

The amount of behavioral health professionals have also increased over the past few years, but not at the same rate as the demand.

An aging workforce and retention are creating barriers to keeping up with the demand. The issue is more evident in rural areas of the state.

Currently 29 of the Nebraska's 93 counties do not have a behavioral health provider of any kind. Eighty-eight of the 93 counties are designated as behavioral health shortage areas.

UNMC's Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska, or BHECN, is working fix the gap between demand and professionals.

The program created satellite centers in more rural areas, like the Kearney area and the state's panhandle, to support students focused on mental health care.

"There is a lack of training opportunities, so if a student wants to obtain a graduate degree for example, often the only programs available are in Lincoln or Omaha. So they need to travel to attend these programs, then the likelihood of them returning to their hometown is less," Doyle said.

With recruitment, continued education and mentorship, the program is on the right track, Doyle says. But, she adds, the problem is not fixed yet. Doyle says with time and implementation they can get there.

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