Extension of behavioral health program advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval April 7 to a bill that would extend a behavioral health screening and referral program.

In 2013, the Legislature created the Behavioral Health Screening and Referral Pilot Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) to develop ways to address unmet children’s behavioral health needs that could be replicated statewide.

LB240, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, would remove the Sept. 6, 2015, termination date for the program and an existing cap on the number of clinic sites.

Hansen said the program screened over 1,900 young people during visits to family health providers since its inception in November 2013. Approximately 23 percent of those children screened positive for a behavioral health concern, he said.

“It has been a successful program and one I feel that we, as a state, should continue,” Hansen said. “Effectively, [LB240] will continue the program and make it permanent.”

Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell supported the bill, saying the pilot program grew out of the state’s safe haven “debacle” in 2008. In the years following passage of the law, she said, it became clear that Nebraska needed to do more to identify and treat behavioral health disorders in young people.

Campbell said carrying on the work established by the pilot program is critical to early detection of depression, anxiety and other disorders.

“We need to move this program from a pilot situation to making sure that it exists all across the state of Nebraska,” she said.

Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher questioned the efficacy of the pilot program, saying more data regarding its success should be offered before removing the sunset date.

Senators needs to know what form of treatment children received, how it was paid for and how effective it was, he said—as well as how those results compare to children who were not screened or treated.

“As a pilot program, we should learn something before we ‘un-pilot’ it and make it a permanent program,” Schumacher said. “Our only result from this two years is that kids were screened.”

Senators voted 32-11 to advance the bill to select file.

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