The Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska at UNMC, or BHECN, was founded in 2009.
Director Howard Liu says BHECN recognized several years ago that there is a real shortage of mental health providers in the state.
Liu says BHECN has two missions: supporting the next generation and training those that are currently working in the field.
He says the state of Nebraska faces two major challenges. Liu says the majority of mental health providers are stacked up in Omaha and Lincoln with few in the rural areas of the state.
He says that means longer wait times for patients before they can see a specialist.
"The other challenge is the aging of the population of providers. It’s pretty significant. For instance, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, addiction counselors, you know 60% of the workforce is over the age of 50. And if you look ahead in the next 15 years when they might retire, that’s really a huge percentage of our workforce. So we really need to concentrate on raising up the next group that’s going to take their place.”
Liu says BHECN has an Ambassador Program that introduces students from rural communities to behavioral health careers starting in high school.
BHECN also offers a Virtual Mentorship Network that connects students with behavioral health mentors in their particular areas of interest through teleconferencing.