As January is well underway, a new year with great transition is upon us. A new year always allows for a fresh start, new goals, and renewed energy. However, a new year can also be a time of change and new leadership. That is what we are facing this year. Whether it is on the federal or state level, we have had a shift in leadership and make up of our government. Politics and parties aside, you can feel a sense of anxiety and uncertainty among our providers, clients, and supporters.
On the state level we have started the legislative session with 17 new Senators, as well as a change in the managed care company structure that we have used for many years. We now have three managed care companies in our Medicaid program and have combined physical and behavioral health. For the most part, this provides the consumer the power of choice and will hopefully be a smooth transition. With all change comes growing pains, but in time I believe that if everyone puts the consumer of services first, as well as true parity between physical and behavioral health, this change should be a welcomed one. We need to avoid varying or more stringent regulations on one health area over another and remove unnecessary barriers for those seeking services. As for the 17 new Senators, this is a moment of opportunity to educate them on the issues you feel are important and give them a true sense of the landscape of our great state. So far I’ve witnessed genuine curiosity and desire to better life for Nebraskans from the Senators I’ve interacted with and I hope that holds true moving forward.
If you have opened up any newspaper or news site in the last several weeks, you have seen endless coverage on the shortfall our state budget is experiencing and read or heard about Governor Ricketts’ plans to close that shortfall. His suggested cuts to budgets in the upcoming biennium has many extremely concerned and reeling in terms of how they will make it work, but I have faith in our Legislature, our Governor, and the people of Nebraska that together a fair and just outcome will prevail. Cuts will obviously need to be made when we are facing a deficit the size that has been publicized (up to $900 million by some counts), but making these cuts in behavioral health care, education, corrections, or any other area that is crucial to the safety and basic needs of our communities is concerning. I trust and hope that those involved will come together and make sound, just decisions when trying to balance the budget ahead.
Where to begin on the federal level…we are seeing a true divide, one greater than I ever remember experiencing in my lifetime, but that doesn’t change the fact that we must come together, impact change, and remain true to the values and ideals that made us such a strong country over time. Healthcare and other basic needs for everyone in this country must remain a priority. That doesn’t necessarily mean that current legislation must remain intact as is, but basic needs for all must be met. I have heard so many concerns from those we serve that they are worried about disruptions of their services and care. I hope that all the work that has been done nationally on education and awareness about behavioral health care being just as important as physical health care is not all for naught. We’ve come so far as a country in embracing the importance of mental health and come to the understanding that you can’t have good physical health without strong mental health and this will always remain to be true, no matter who leads our great country.
At this point I think it is a matter of ‘wait and see’ in terms of what will happen with our healthcare system, but I want to believe that quality behavioral health services will remain intact and further barriers will not be created for those needing services to receive them. I look to our national and state leaders and advocates to be a strong voice for those who may struggle to find theirs. We must remain encouraged and hopeful as we forge ahead to make a positive impact. I know that here at the foundation we will continue advocating for those who need it most and we will do all we can to ensure behavioral health care remains a priority for all Nebraskans.
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia Hebenstreit is the Executive Director of The Kim Foundation. She received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation since 2011, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves on the Executive Committee for Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, as the 2015 Hill Day State Captain for the state of Nebraska, and as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, BHECN Advisory Committee, RESPECT Advisory Board, Connections Advisory Board and the Project Propel Planning Group.