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Legislative committee discusses funding for behavioral and mental health internship programs

Legislative committee discusses funding for behavioral and mental health internship programs
Courtesy/ Legislature. Sen. John Stinner.

LINCOLN –The Nebraska Legislature needs to identify new sources of money to fund doctoral-level behavioral and mental health internship programs in rural Nebraska, the Appropriations Committee was told Friday.

The interim hearing on a resolution introduced by Sen. John Stinner of Scottsbluff, brought testimony from psychologists and behavioral and mental health experts, some traveling from the Panhandle to testify in favor of the funding and discuss potential solutions.

Many speakers argued that by bringing these internships to rural areas in Nebraska, the program would not only be beneficial to interns but to the communities themselves.

Many rural communities in Nebraska have few — if any — behavioral and mental health specialists in close proximity. Keith Allen, director and professor of psychology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said that all areas of Nebraska, aside from Omaha and Lincoln, are considered shortage areas for behavioral health professionals. Thirty-two of Nebraska’s 93 counties have no behavior health care professionals at all.

Katherine Carrizales, a school psychologist in Scottsbluff, said a program bringing doctoral-level behavioral and mental health interns to rural areas could meet the needs of rural citizens and increase the flow of “highly-trained, cost-efficient” services to rural areas.

A variety of funding solutions were suggested during the hearing. Some of the speakers suggested assisting the funding through Medicaid, but Allen of UNMC said that wouldn’t be “adequate for funding stipends or supervision” for the interns.

Jon Bailey, the director of the Northeast Nebraska Behavioral Health Network, said rural communities lacking behavioral or mental health programs often have “higher suicide rates, a higher drinking rate, higher smoking rates and a higher rate of self-identified poor mental health.”

Because of this, Bailey and others said the state should work to find a way to acquire funding for internships.

“Rural people don’t think they should be denied services just because they come from a small town,” Bailey said.

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