State Lawmakers Consider Beefing Up Access To Behavioral Health Services

Lawmakers gave first-round approval Feb. 24 to a bill intended to increase access to behavioral health services in Nebraska.

LB901, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill, would require the University of Nebraska Medical Center's Behavioral Health Education Center to fund five one-year doctoral-level internships within 12 months of the bill's enactment. The number of internships would increase to 10 within 36 months.

Under the bill, interns would be placed in communities where their presence would improve access to behavioral health services for patients residing in rural and underserved areas of Nebraska.

Every psychologist must complete an internship as part of their course of study, McGill said, forcing doctoral students to leave the state when internships are not available in Nebraska. Those who leave to complete their training likely will not return, she said.

"This bill will build our mental health workforce and reach thousands of patients that may not get help otherwise," she said.

Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas supported the bill, saying the lack of mental health providers in rural areas heavily impacts education. Teachers spend a great deal of time attempting to address behavioral health problems, she said, even though they are not trained or equipped to do so.

"What does that mean to the overall ability to educate all of our children?" Dubas said.

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids also spoke in favor of the bill, saying that none of the nine counties in her legislative district currently is served by a psychologist. The new internships outlined in the bill could help fill the void, she said.

McGill offered an amendment, adopted 30-0, that adds physician assistants to the list of health care professionals that the center analyzes in terms of demographic and geographic availability to determine underserved areas in Nebraska.

Lawmakers advanced the bill to select file on a 31-0 vote.

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