Gaps in mental, intellectual services investigated

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska residents who suffer from a combination of intellectual, behavioral and mental health problems aren’t always receiving state services that could help them, lawmakers were told at a hearing Monday.

Parents told a joint committee at the Capitol that their children often qualified for one type of service, such as help with a learning disorder, but weren’t able to access mental health treatment. The services came from separate divisions of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Lawmakers convened this hearing in response to constituents’ complaints about mental health services and to look ahead to possible reforms.

Eric Evans, the chief operating officer at Disability Rights Nebraska, said the state lacks opportunities for treatment providers to train in multiple specialties.

“This problem has existed for 40 years, and we haven’t really conducted a systematic evaluation of the services available for this population,” he said.

Claudia Sherman said her 34-year-old daughter, Jill, was diagnosed with learning disabilities, an auditory-processing disorder and bipolar disorder. Jill Sherman was accepted for treatment by the state’s Behavioral Health Division and allowed into a group home. It was filled with men that Jill didn’t know, Claudia Sherman said, and some residents were recovering drug addicts.

Claudia Sherman said her daughter would have preferred services offered by the state Division of Developmental Disabilities, but was told she didn’t qualify because to receive such services, she needed to have an IQ below 70 at age 22. Her IQ didn’t fall below the threshold until she turned 30, Sherman said.

“Mental illnesses are even more difficult to manage when someone also has developmental disabilities,” Sherman said.

Scot Adams, director of Nebraska’s Behavioral Health Division, said some states have addressed the problem by combining behavioral and mental health services in state government. In Nebraska, they’re split into different divisions within the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Adams said community service groups offer more flexibility with treatment, but aren’t always as accountable.

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