The 106th Nebraska Legislature started session this month and has had a whirlwind of activity since it began. However, this is only the beginning. An impressive 739 bills were introduced and will now be taken up by the committees. Dozens of bills pertaining to behavioral health have been introduced covering issues from system wide rate increases, to amending previously passed legislation, to broadening training for school staff on suicide prevention, to overall mental health awareness. It will be interesting to see what, if any, behavioral health legislation advances beyond committee this session, and whether additional funding will be approved to level out some of the gaps we’ve seen in funding over the years.
Many behavioral health advocates will be spending a lot of time in Lincoln educating not only the 13 new state senators who took office, but also returning senators who may not be as familiar with the issues facing our state’s behavioral health needs. At the heart of those needs of course is more funding. The Division of Behavioral Health recently conducted a cost study that shows numerous services are being reimbursed far below the actual cost the provider incurs to implement these services. This leads to capacity issues, ultimately resulting in access issues for those Nebraskans in need of care. For many years, behavioral health has not been valued the same as physical health. However, one cannot truly be healthy without both physical and mental wellness, and it is time that we as a state prioritize the whole health of all Nebraskans. We urge both the senators in office and the Governor to take these concerns to heart, and begin to take steps to adequately fund behavioral health services in Nebraska.
It is up to all of us as Nebraskans to speak out on those issues most important to us. We elect our senators and governor into office, but our responsibility does not end at the polling place that day in November. We must continue to be heard and make sure that our elected officials are truly representing their constituents’ needs. You can learn more about what bills have been introduced, when they will be debated, and how to contact your senator here: https://nebraskalegislature.gov/. If there is an issue you feel strongly about or have a personal experience that highlights that issue, take the time to call your senator’s office, write him/her a letter or email, and let your voice be heard. Each and every one of us can truly make a difference if we just take the time to speak out and make sure we are heard.
Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation
Julia 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.