GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - Experts say the lack of access to mental health care in rural areas of Nebraska isn’t improving.
The June 2015 Nebraska Behavioral Health Workforce report says there wasn’t a mental health provider in 48 of Nebraska’s 93 counties in 2014. According to the report, roughly 84 percent of psychiatrists are in metropolitan counties.
Dr. Howard Liu, director of the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska, said rural areas don’t have all the resources to support mental health care. He told the Grand Island Independent (http://bit.ly/1WIkSbA ) that the shortage could worsen, with the report showing more than half of the licensed workforce as being older than 50.
“It’s really going to be truly an acute shortage in the next few years as those folks retire,” Liu said.
Loan repayment programs are giving incentives for providers to work in rural areas, said Tom Rauner, primary care office director for Nebraska’s Office of Rural Health. He said officials are working to figure out the best way to retain mental health professionals in rural areas.
It can be difficult to recruit providers to such areas, Liu said, if they have no ties to Nebraska.
“We really have to invest in our local students and mentor them all the way through,” Liu said.
Telecommunications could also be used to improve access, Liu said, allowing psychiatrists to serve multiple areas.
National Alliance on Mental Illness Nebraska Executive Director Tom Adams said people in rural areas can have a hard time simply finding others to talk with about mental illness. He said farming communities can have a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality.
“Just to go to have a place to talk to someone is a huge challenge for us,” Adams said.