AB 37 Passes: University Gets a Behavioral Health Workforce Center--Nevada News

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Sondra Cosgrove, PhD
May 27, 2024

Shortages of behavioral health providers are common across the United States, and the problem has been getting worse for decades. Higher education costs can be high, and Medicaid reimbursement rates for behavioral health services are low. Insurance companies often block access to behavioral health benefits for vulnerable populations. No one disputes these facts. So, the question is, if we know all these issues exist, why haven’t we addressed them to solve our behavioral healthcare crisis? The answer is relatively easy and depressing: alack of funding.

While the pandemic was a horrible experience that cost lives, careers, and even trust in our medical systems, it became a key for addressing our behavioral health needs because it brought funding. When federal money flowed down to the states for pandemic healthcare, the states paid for behavioral health services for many, especially children. Yet we lacked the providers to meet all our needs. Nevada advocates who have worked for years to build a stronger behavioral health  workforce finally saw hope. They grasped an opportunity to connect local students with higher education to put them on a path to becoming our future behavioral health providers.

In 2023, Nevada’s Rural Behavioral Health Policy Board Sponsored Assembly Bill 37. This bill proposed creating a behavioral health workforce center at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The legislature and governor passed the bill. This center will coordinate higher education institutions and K-12 schools to build a complete behavioral health workforce system.

AB37 advocates looked to Nebraska’s behavioral health workforce program as a model Nevada could easily adopt. So, with a proven blueprint in hand, the Nevada System of Higher Education created Be Here, which means Behavioral Health Education, Retention, and Expansion Network of Nevada. BeHere’s director, Dr. Sara Hunt, is diligently working to set up this new office as quickly as possible to connect interested students with practicing behavioral health professionals as mentors. BeHere will also advocate for a pipeline program that connects middle school students to our community colleges and universities in ways that will keep their student debt as low as possible.

We finally have a long-wished-for tool to address Nevada’s last-in-the-nation rating for behavioral health services. Our task now is to protect and grow this tool. To do so, we must introduce our friends and family to new opportunities to become behavioral health providers. And with an election coming up, we must register to vote and ensure anyone running for our state legislature knows we cannot go back to ignoring the needs of our most vulnerable populations.  

If you are interested in a career in behavioral health, don’t hesitate to contact an advisor at the closest Nevada Higher Education institution to learn more about starting the next chapter of your life and enhancing our community’s well-being.

Sondra Cosgrove, PhD, is a history professor at the College of Southern Nevada and the executive director of Vote Nevada.

Photo: Northeastern Regional Hospital, Elko, NV, by Famartin, Wikipedia Commons