State’s mental health providers tout ‘transformational’ bill aiding development of community clinics

By: - January 10, 2023 7:54 pm

One of the state’s certified community behavioral health clinics will be located on the new CenterPoint Campus for Health and Well Being, under construction in Lincoln (Courtesy of Clark & Enersen)

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s mental health providers are touting a “transformational” proposal to establish federally certified behavioral health clinics in communities across the state.

State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln on Tuesday introduced a bill to aid the development of at least six such clinics in Omaha, Lincoln, Fremont, Kearney and Hastings through the state’s Medicaid program.

Sen. wishart
State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Wishart said she’s heard over and over during her six years in the Legislature how Nebraska lacks mental health services and how that shortage impacts state prisons and local jails, as well as the calls for service to law enforcement.

Her Legislative Bill 276 is a chance for the state to “step up” to address that problem, she said.

It’s a more contemporary way of managing health care for those with mental health issues and struggling with addiction,” Wishart said.

The “certified community behavioral health clinics” called for in the bill are the mental health equivalent of federally qualified health centers, such as OneWorld and Charles Drew Center in Omaha, that provide a wide array of health care to low-income families.

Data, savings ‘well known’

About 500 community behavioral health clinics have been established across the country, and they have proved to improve outcomes for those who seek sobriety and stability and to avoid more expensive trips to emergency rooms for people in crisis, said Topher Hansen of Lincoln’s CenterPointe treatment campus.

“The data is pretty well known, and the savings are pretty well known,” Hansen said.

Last year, an official with the State of Missouri’s certified behavioral health clinics told state lawmakers that establishing such centers there had expanded access to mental health care and led to the hiring of more clinicians and psychiatrists.

Such “certified” community clinics are required to provide nine core services so that a broader array of help is available and more accessible, advocates say. Such clinics are also required to seek better coordination with local law enforcement.

Bob Shueey of South Central Behavioral Services of Hastings and Kearney said that in the current system, very few mental health providers are able to offer a complete array of high quality services.

Removes ‘barriers’

“This causes difficulty as people often encounter barriers as they try to navigate the system to find the provider who is offering the specific service or services they need,” Shueey said.

Hansen said the motto at CenterPointe is to help people help themselves “get better, sooner and for longer” to avoid relapses and promote a healthy life.

CenterPointe, along with Lutheran Family of Omaha and Fremont and Community Alliance of Omaha, have already developed certified community behavioral health clinics as federal demonstration projects. Others clinics are in the development stage at Heartland Family Services in Omaha and South Central Behavioral Health.

LB 276 would increase funding and set up a more stable funding process for such clinics, as well as include them in an amendment of the state’s Medicaid program, according to Annette Dubas, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations.

Dubas, a former state senator, said such clinics have been “transformational” in other states. reducing costs for emergency rooms as well as youth foster care.

A similar proposal last year, which had a fiscal note of $10 million in state and federal costs, failed to advance. But Wishart said she has higher hopes for LB 276 as the concept of such clinics are better known.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.