- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska is struggling to provide adequate mental health services to its residents and still faces challenges in its efforts to curb binge drinking and substance abuse, according to a legislative report.

The Behavioral and Mental Health Task Force on Thursday issued 18 recommendations for improving mental health services, The Lincoln Journal Star reported (https://bit.ly/2gQ4PtG ).

According to the report, the state, particularly in rural areas, doesn’t have a sufficient amount of mental health workers. The panel recommended publicly funded post-graduate fellowships in psychiatry for physician assistants and psychiatric nurses. Currently, only 14 of the state’s 791 physician assistants are psychiatric providers.

The report also recommends adopting a mental health care provider shortage emergency act to ensure a portion of vacancy savings at Lincoln Region Center are used for staff retention bonuses, should the number of staff members at Lincoln Regional Center fall below a certain level.

A 2016 University of Nebraska Medical Center assessment said only 7 percent of Nebraskans who abuse alcohol end up receiving treatment. Project Extra Mile said excessive drinking costs Nebraskans over $1.1 billion a year, $491 million of which falls on government.

“When we have waiting lists that are three weeks long for the right level of care, those are issues of resources and capacity,” task force chairwoman Sen. Kate Bolz said.

Senators also recommended developing appropriate mental health programs in state prisons so that people can better succeed after leaving. The task force said those inmates should be able to leave prison having sufficient medications until they’re able to make a medical appointment.

Bolz said task force members are already putting together legislation based on their recommendations. The bill will expand housing opportunities such as crisis diversion home Keya House and respite residence Honu Home. Sen. Sara Howard is working with Nebraska Medicaid to authorize peer support services reimbursement.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com

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