LINCOLN–Rural Nebraska is in desperate need of more mental health and behavioral health resources, according to the director of the Northeast Nebraska Behavioral Health Network.
According to the 2017 County Health Rankings, a 24-county region spreading across northeast and northcentral Nebraska has one mental health provider for every 2,997 people. In comparison, the statewide ratio is one for every 440 people.
NeNeBHN Director Jon Bailey said despite the low rates of services, the mental health and behavioral health needs of the area are high. A large proportion of the population is older and less economically well-off, with higher rates of substance abuse and suicide.
The NeNeBHN is making efforts to resolve some of the mental health and behavioral health issues in the area with the hiring of two health advocates. The new hires began work in September and focus on recruiting health care providers to rural communities and educating those communities about mental health and behavioral health needs.
While there have been efforts to recruit more health care providers in the past, Bailey said that wasn’t enough. He said the group that founded the network decided early on that they’d have to do something more than “just put out ads and hope people respond.”
The network received an $874,787, three-year grant from the Health Resources Services that allowed two new staff members to join Bailey on the NeNeBHN team. Traci Bruckner was hired as community outreach director and Elisha Smith was hired as communications director.
The NeNeBHN team will focus their efforts on a 24-county region in Nebraska that’s been labeled as medically underserved, stretching from Cherry to Burt counties.
Bailey said he welcomes the two additional staff members and their assistance.
“(Before the hires), it was a challenge,” Bailey said. “That’s a pretty good-sized area. It’s about the size of West Virginia. So the two employees will allow us to do more work…. It will allow us to go out into more communities, talk to more people, talk to more organizations.”
Bailey said the organization plans to create an online linking system that will connect mental health and behavioral health care students and professionals to open positions in rural communities. They’ll also be able to focus more on reaching out to rural high school students to create interest in returning to their communities post-graduation.
Most importantly, he said they’ll be able to help those in rural communities who have been lacking appropriate resources.
“There’s a lot of people who have mental health or behavioral health challenges in their daily lives that are not getting served, are not getting treated,” he said. “So the ultimate impact we hope is to help those people relieve whatever suffering they’re going through and make their lives better.”