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Behavorial health leaders meet providers in North Platte

The North Platte Telegraph - 10/6/2017

In Nebraska, 88 of 93 counties meet federal criteria for designation as mental health professions shortage areas. Lincoln County is one of them.

Leaders from the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska met Thursday with mental health providers in North Platte before heading to Scottsbluff, Chadron and Rushville.

Dr. Howard Liu, the center's director and a child psychiatrist, said there's a shortage of mental health providers across the country, including psychiatrists, psychologists, addiction counselors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and psychiatric nurses. Rural communities are hit especially hard.

Liu said it can be more difficult to recruit and retain mental health professionals in rural areas, which is something that the center is focused on.

"Our goal is to meet with stakeholders in behavioral health in western Nebraska to learn more about their workforce and training needs and to discuss solutions and programs to grow the workforce," Liu said.

High school students often want to leave their small town to experience the big city, Liu said. Sometimes they don't return to rural areas. The center has partnered with 15 behavioral health academic programs in hopes of keeping 50 percent of students in Nebraska.

In other cases, it can be difficult to recruit a provider who has always lived in an urban area to work in a rural one.

"I think people that didn't grow up in rural communities may not understand how good it is to live in one like North Platte," Liu said.

He said the center has established rotations in hospitals such as Great Plains Health to give students an idea of what it's like to live and work in a rural area.

The center also tries to offer support, continuing education and other services to providers who are already practicing in rural areas.

"We have to support them so they don't get burnt out," Liu said.

The center has also been working on initiatives that combine elements of behavioral health with primary care. This means a mental health provider, such as a therapist, may work in a primary care office, so a patient can have a mental health screening without having to wait to get into a specialty clinic.

Liu said data from integrated offices show a significant increase in people following through on mental health referrals. He explained that being able to meet with a provider in a familiar setting may eliminate some of the stigma that surrounds mental health care and put patients at ease.

 
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