Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska leaders to visit Panhandle to discuss workforce growth initiatives

Leaders from the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska (BHECN, pronounced “beacon”) will visit behavioral health partners in three areas of the Panhandle Oct. 5-6 to discuss behavioral health workforce growth initiatives.

BHECN leaders, including Dr. Howard Liu, BHECN’s director and child psychiatrist, and Joe Evans, BHECN’s clinical director and licensed psychologist, will meet with educators, providers and community leaders in North Platte, Scottsbluff, Chadron and Rushville over the two-day trip.

In Nebraska, 88 of 93 counties meet federal criteria for designation as mental health professions shortage areas with more than 50 percent of the behavioral health workforce over the age of 50. This workforce includes addiction counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and nurse practitioners.

“Nebraska is faced with critical workforce shortages, leading to gaps in behavioral health services in many rural areas,” Liu said. “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.”

BHECN’s initiatives focus on workforce pipeline development, mentoring and training programs, and integrating behavioral health professionals into primary care medical clinics.

In collaboration with the 15 behavioral health academic programs that educate the state’s licensed professionals, BHECN’s goal is to retain 50 percent of students in Nebraska.

“BHECN is invested in introducing students to careers in behavioral health and developing mentorship opportunities for trainees,” Liu said. “We are finding ways to connect students with professionals and supervised training opportunities to help shape their careers and to hopefully keep them working in Nebraska.”

Some examples of BHECN initiatives include:

• BHECN established the Nebraska Counseling Collaborative, which obtained a Health Resources and Services Administration grant to fund 21 interns from counseling graduate programs at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Wayne State College, University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Chadron State College to train and work in underserved rural and urban areas.

• In collaboration with the Munroe-Meyer Institute Psychology Department, BHECN places counseling and psychology interns into 24 rural primary care clinics across the state that have behavioral health services integrated into patients’ “medical homes.” Recently, additional federal funding was secured to expand training to psychiatric nurse practitioners, doctoral level psychologists, and master’s degree therapists over the next four years.

• BHECN funds psychiatry resident rural rotations in North Platte, Hastings and Kearney.

• BHECN launched a new program to train master’s level counseling students at Chadron State College to become alcohol and drug counselors, addressing the gaps in the Panhandle for addiction treatment services.

• A recent HRSA grant award will also fund non-traditional students to train as addiction counselors and community health workers in rural areas of Nebraska and will serve as a career ladder to future careers in behavioral health.

• The University of Nebraska at Kearney was established as a “rural hub” by BHECN to guide many rural training and workforce development ideas with the help of an advisory board consisting of 19 members spanning central and western Nebraska.

• BHECN is exploring the possibility of creating a rural provider network to provide support and training for rural providers who may experience isolation from the behavioral health workforce.

• BHECN offers ongoing training opportunities via webinars, summits, workshops, seminars and online modules, available to trainees and professionals across the state.

More information about BHECN’s behavioral health workforce initiatives can be found at

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