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January 16, 2018

Behavioral health challenges in this region
By Traci Bruckner
NeNeBHN Outreach Director

Rural communities across northeast and north-central Nebraska lack access to behavioral and mental health providers.

All 24 counties within the Northeast Nebraska Behavioral Health Network (NeNeBHN) region (Cherry, Keya Paha, Brown, Rock, Boyd, Holt, Wheeler, Knox, Antelope, Boone, Nance, Cedar, Pierce, Madison, Platte, Dixon, Wayne, Stanton, Colfax, Dakota, Thurston, Cuming, Dodge, and Burt)  have been designated as mental health professional shortage areas, as well as medically underserved communities.

The 2017 County Health Rankings, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Fund and the University of Wisconsin, found this region had a mental health provider per population ratio of 2,997 to 1. That is in comparison to a statewide ratio of 440 to 1. With a great need in our region for mental health and behavioral health services and treatment, many go without the services they need and suffer as a result.

The NeNeBHN seeks to facilitate expanded access to behavioral and mental health providers and services by working in collaboration with communities, diverse and experienced organizations, institutions, and individuals. Through this work we will work directly with communities to develop community-based solutions that not only attract behavioral health and mental health professionals, but also help them stay and set down roots in the community. In addition, we will assist in behavioral and mental health professional placements, as well as increase awareness of behavioral and mental health issues and needs in rural communities.

To that end, we plan to work directly in five communities throughout the 24-county region. Pender is one of those communities. With so many forward-looking projects, such as the new Pender Community Center, a great hospital that has integrated behavioral and mental health services, a new clinic, an incredibly active community foundation and so much more, it has much to offer such healthcare professionals seeking to live, work and thrive in a rural community.

We are looking forward to meeting with a diverse set of stakeholders in the Pender community during the month of January. Through this meeting we look to discuss what communities can do to lay out the proverbial welcome mat by developing plans concerning housing, financial incentives, and community supports for behavioral health and mental health professionals and students.

We believe increasing access to behavioral and mental health services by working directly with communities to attract and keep professionals and students in the region, is a win-win for the community. It will address an identified need in the region that improves the quality of life for all, while also helping the region grow economically. Moreover, it is complementary and fits into existing community development plans.

If you would like to be involved in developing community-based solutions to increase access to behavioral and mental health providers and services, we welcome your participation.

Editor’s note: Traci Bruckner is the Community Outreach Director for the Northeast Nebraska Behavioral Health Network. Bruckner is a native of Pender and currently resides in Wayne. She can be reached at 402.360.2109 or

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