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The University of Nebraska Public Policy Center recently surveyed hospitals across Nebraska to evaluate behavioral health readiness in the event of a disaster, act of terrorism (including bioterrorism) or other mass-casualty incident. The survey also asked about hospitals’ ability to effectively coordinate with other emergency service providers, such as law enforcement, in the event of a critical incident.
Behavioral health readiness refers to a hospital’s capacity to effectively manage and respond to the psychological needs of patients, staff, and their families resulting from a large scale event or emergency. In many hospitals in Nebraska this capacity is not maintained internally and there is an informal reliance on local mental health resources to handle any psychological surge. The challenge associated with this mechanism is the lack of professional mental health resources in many areas of the State. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2003) designated 88 of Nebraska’s 93 counties as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. This means that nearly 95% of Nebraska counties are without sufficient mental health services.