A total of 83 projects from across Nebraska will receive a share of nearly $20 million in federal pandemic recovery funds to bolster the development of the state's behavioral health workforce.
The money is the first and largest installment of the $25.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds the Nebraska Legislature allocated to the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska last year. In total, the Legislature designated approximately $40 million of the federal funds for behavioral health projects in the state.
Among projects that will receive a portion of that funding are a planned pediatric mental health center on the campus of Children's Hospital & Medical Center and Community Alliance's new headquarters and expanded services, both in Omaha.
The Behavioral Health Education Center was tasked with distributing the funds in a way that would address the impacts of the pandemic and the shortage of behavioral health professionals. The center received nearly 200 applications totaling nearly $50 million in requested funds.
"That speaks to the unmet need," said Dr. Marley Doyle, director of the center, which is housed at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Center officials decided they wanted money to be available to providers and organizations across the state, she said. Of the 83 projects funded through the competitive application process, 43 — or 52% — were in rural areas.
"We're thrilled about that," Doyle said, noting that the behavioral health workforce shortage is a challenge. "But the rural areas are where we see the most need."
The center soon will open a second round of applications. Updated information will be made available on the center's website.
The workforce money was awarded in four categories: behavioral health training and education; tele-behavioral health in rural areas; behavioral health projects to address the COVID-19 pandemic; and funding for supervision of provisionally licensed health providers.
HopeSpoke, a Lincoln nonprofit that provides mental health services for low-income youth and families, received a total of $600,000 to recruit and retain therapists and other staff over the next few years.
"HopeSpoke is grateful for these awards," said Executive Director Katie McLeese Stephenson. "Especially during the pandemic, agencies like HopeSpoke have strained to serve all of the children waiting for services. This funding will help more kids find the care they deserve."
Doyle said the education funding will allow clinics and organizations to take on more behavioral health students and trainees and pay them for their work.
Most training programs require students and trainees to spend time in clinical settings under supervision. But many of those internship programs are unpaid. Not all students can take an unpaid position. The hope, Doyle said, is that the funding will allow programs to train more people and to increase the number of trainees who go on to full licensure.
Separately, the fourth category, which provides funding for supervision of provisionally licensed providers, provides funding for existing providers to be paid for providing supervision. That way, more will be likely to do so.
To receive tele-behavioral health funding, Doyle said, applicants had to have a specific plan outlining how the funding would impact their current system or help them build a new one. Bryan Telemedicine, which provides a long list of telemedicine services in rural areas including behavioral health, received $1 million, which will allow it to further expand its services.
Such services are particularly important in areas of the state where there are no behavioral health care providers, Doyle said.
"We know that tele-behavioral health is not the answer to access to behavioral health services," she said. "... But it's a big part of the answer, because it is better than nothing."
Doyle said the state is fortunate that legislators saw mental health as a priority and chose to put resources toward it.
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