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Flooding-Farmers, 3.22

More than 75 percent of Dave Eaton's farm near Union remains covered by Missouri River floodwater in late March.

A medical provider said Tuesday this is no time for the state to skimp on paying for mental health services, with recent flooding expected to heighten issues such as depression, anxiety, traumatic stress and substance abuse. 

Cathy Phillips, a nurse practitioner from Hastings, told the Legislature's Appropriations Committee that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has noted, even before such a stress-causing incident, higher suicide rates in rural areas, which is a concern for the state along with the opioid crisis and high levels of binge drinking. 

Rural populations have limited provider choices, fewer hospitals and clinics, and longer travel times to access care, Phillips said. 

Sen. Kate Bolz introduced a bill (LB327) to increase payment rates for providers of mental health and substance-abuse treatment by 5 percent in each of the next two years. It would also increase rates for providers of services for those receiving children's health insurance program benefits.

A study by the state Division of Behavioral Health showed rates now are far below the cost of providing needed and critical care, she said. 

Beth Baxter, regional administrator for Region 3 Behavioral Health Services, said that in normal times, one in five Nebraskans suffers from a mental health or substance-use disorder. 

"But given our current state of crisis due to the massive flooding, that number will grow exponentially," Baxter said. "The psychological needs of Nebraskans who are in the midst of this crisis are abundant and will only continue to escalate in the months and years to come as the full impact of this disaster manifests itself in myriad of problems."

Baxter, who has been a regional administrator for more than 27 years, said the state needs to have providers who can address trauma to restore their psychological well-being. 

If the behavioral health system isn't shored up, Baxter said, the consequences will be dire. Adequate capacity and access to this care is essential. 

Stephanie Knight, behavioral health administrator at Fillmore County Hospital, said her program has seen an increase recently within the agricultural population of people who are struggling amid financial difficulties with losing homes and ranches that have been in their families for generations. 

"These proud and hardworking individuals are contemplating suicide as a possible solution," Knight said. 

"Sadly, we cannot sustain our services without this rate increase. ... We honestly cannot afford to continue to provide these types of services, but we also can't turn our back on our communities who need us." 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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