Rural Provider Support Network Conference hosted in Scottsbluff

May 23, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF — A conference centered around behavioral health in rural areas was hosted at the John N. Harms Center Friday. Forty professionals in the behavioral health field gathered to learn more about creating opportunities for behavioral health in western Nebraska.

The Behavioral Health Educational Center of Nebraska was established in 2009 in an attempt to improve both rural and statewide access to behavioral health services. Behavioral health encompasses addiction, substance abuse and mental health.

BHECN, pronounced “beacon,” does not have a chapter in the western end of Nebraska, and this was the first conference hosted by BHECN at this end of the state.

The need for improved behavioral health options in rural communities in Nebraska is prevalent and continuously growing, with the majority of counties in Nebraska meeting the federally-mandated criteria to be designated as mental health professions shortage areas.

A total of 88 of the state’s 93 counties have been identified as shortage areas, meaning the number of providers in the area is far too low for the population. Additionally, 32 counties in the state have no mental health providers.

BHECN’s goal is to increase retention of behavioral health providers in rural areas, along with recruitment to rural Nebraska.

The conference covered issues including ethics for rural behavioral health providers and integrating behavioral health into primary care in rural areas.

Integrating behavioral health has proven successful for rural areas and is a viable option for western Nebraska. Behavioral health is highly stigmatized, and this stigma often causes people to refuse seeking the help they need, especially if it means going to a practice that is separate from where they go for primary care.

“Early on somebody talked about this, about having your pickup truck parked in front of the mental health center. I mean, that can be the kiss of death in some of these small towns,” said Joseph Evans, the director of the psychology department at the Monroe-Meyer Institute.

However, if the location of both primary and behavioral health care was shared, people would potentially be more inclined to seek health care from a behavioral health professional versus refusing to receive care or opting to see a primary care professional who may not be able to properly diagnose or treat the problem.

With integration, patients can seek the health care they need, primary or behavioral, from the same facility.

According to research done by Evans and Holly Roberts, both a part of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, 60 percent of people in need of behavioral healthcare, be it mental health or addiction, don’t get the assistance they need. Twenty-three percent of behavioral health patients are cared for by primary care, and depression goes undetected in more than 50 percent of patients who seek behavioral care from a primary care physician.

Integration would attempt to lower these numbers and ensure patients are receiving the care that will best improve their way of life.

Primary care practices would also see a 15 to 20 percent boost in productivity if a behavioral health professional was a part of the practice.

The collaboration between both providers will ensure higher productivity and better care for the patient.

These findings are all backed by research performed throughout the country. By analyzing practices that have opted to integrate, conclusions have been found showing the efficacy of integrated practices in rural areas.

The conference also provided a continuing education opportunity for professionals needing that accreditation.

At the end of the conference, materials were given to the behavioral health providers in attendance at the conference to distribute in their offices.

This conference was the first step toward increasing behavioral health opportunities for rural Nebraska, allowing a statewide network of behavioral health providers to start being established.