A measure intended to extend mental health services to school children has advanced in the legislature.
Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln says her bill, LB 556, would make it optional for a mental health screening to be part of childhood physicals.
“Screenings in the primary care doctor’s office are incredibly important for a number of reasons,” McGill tells colleagues during floor debate on her bill. “Many parents don’t seek out help or advice, because they don’t know where to go and who to trust. Screenings in their doctor’s office will make it more accessible and allow them to take the initial steps towards treatment if needed with someone that they trust.”
The bill initially made the mental health screenings mandatory, but McGill changed it to optional after hearings on the measure.
Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton says the bill will help overcome the stigma attached to mental illness.
“If our child is physically sick, we don’t waste a moment to get them to the doctor to get them the care that they need so that they can get back on the path of wellness,” Dubas says. “But, if our child demonstrates a symptom of mental or behavioral illness, we are afraid.”
Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff supports the measure, but tells colleagues they need to consider the underlying problem.
“What is occurring with our children that creates this environment that we have?” Harms asks. “That’s what I worry about and they’re beginning to identify these children, maybe it’s because we’re more aware of the situation, in grade school. And that’s where we need to start to pick up the issues. By the time they get to high school, many times, it’s almost unmanageable.”
Rural Nebraska has few child psychologists. The bill would require the state Department of Health and Human Services to develop rules to extend telehealth services for child mental and behavioral health, especially in outstate Nebraska.
A pilot program for telehealth behavioral services would include three clinics, at least one in urban Nebraska and one in the rural part of the state.
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion expresses reservations about establishing a pilot program.
“My biggest concern is that (when) we start a pilot program, it never goes away,” Kintner says. “If, for some reason, it doesn’t work like we think it will, my guess is we’re going to tinker with it, we’re going to tinker with it, we’re going to tinker with it and we’ll be tinkering with it when I am in the grave.”
The bill will return for another round of debate in which it can be further amended before advancing to final consideration.