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Local News

Report tackles state’s deep-rooted health care problems

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Camalot Todd, Nevada Current
February 29, 2024

Nevada’s first-ever statewide “health improvement plan” examines inadequacies that have long bedeviled the state, and makes several policy recommendations designed to improve the health of Nevadans.

The Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health released the plan in collaboration with the University of Nevada, Reno School of Public Health Tuesday. 

The Silver State Health Improvement Plan documents the ongoing struggles Nevada has with access to behavioral healthoral care, public health infrastructure, and social determinants of health that play a role in keeping residents healthy. The plan also identifies policy goals that could be implemented to improve the state’s performance in these areas. 

The plan was born out of DPBH’s desire for accreditation from the nonprofit Public Health Accreditation Board in 2021, a voluntary program designed to help improve public health care in the U.S. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged all government public health organizations to get accreditation which sets national standards for how government public health organizations should perform.

One condition of the accreditation process was to create a statewide health improvement plan. DPBH met this condition via a partnership with UNR’s Center for Public Health Excellence. 

UNR and DPBH presented some of the plan to the Joint Interim Standing Committee on Health and Human Services earlier this month.

“The plan essentially provides a roadmap for DPBH and community organizations to work together to improve the health of Nevadans,” Megan Comlossy, the director of the UNR School of Public Health Public Affairs and Policy, told legislators during the interim committee. 

State Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas), the vice chair of the committee, pushed for the presentation of the plan to be heard as the interim committee sets its policy goals for the next legislative session.

“This is the ground we currently sit on, we know that there are plenty of issues that can go into health care but we can’t solve all of them in one year or two years, so these are the areas that we should be aligned towards,” he said. 

The 2023 legislative session laid the foundation for some of the goals highlighted in the plan, including addressing Nevada’s long-standing behavioral health provider shortage by passing three bills. The assembly introduced and passed two bills, one that created a behavioral health workforce development center to help develop a pipeline of providers by reducing barriers to licensure, and another that created a student loan repayment program for providers working in underserved communities. The Senate passed a bill extending telehealth requirements helping those living in behavioral health provider shortage areas continue to get treatment. 

But the plan released this month laid out other solutions that can inform policy changes, including joining interstate licensure compacts, which allow behavioral health providers to practice in other states outside of where they are licensed as long as they meet certain requirements. 

The plan was developed with input from nearly 100 people representing state, local, and tribal governments as well as public health, social services, and education organizations. 

It establishes 15 goals that fall under four categories: access to health care; mental health and substance use; social determinants of health; and public health infrastructure.

Some of the 15 goals include:

  • Improve access to oral health by supporting school-based sealant programs through American Rescue Plan Act funds. Sealants are thin coatings applied to teeth that can prevent cavities, helping lower-income children prevent costly visits to the dentist.
  • Increase access to children’s behavioral health services by allowing schools to bill Medicaid for children’s behavioral health services provided on campus.  
  • Reduce food insecurity and improve the overall food security ecosystem by partnering with local farmers, food vendors, tribal communities, and other community organizations to support initiatives aimed at increasing mobile access to healthy foods.
  • Invest in the Nevada public health system, which includes the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services as well as local health districts, with funding levels that are flexible and sustainable through an increase in flexible, non-categorical State General Funds. The bulk of funding provided to these public health departments is through short-term grants to be used for specific purposes.
  • Increase investment in the behavioral health system in Nevada by increasing the State General Fund investment in Medicaid and use those dollars to raise reimbursement rates for behavioral health services. 
  • Improve the quality of Nevada’s public health system by increasing the number of state and local health authorities that are accredited or reaccredited by the PHAB. 

“The State Health Improvement Plan provides a roadmap for state government and community partners to work together to improve the health of all in the Silver State,” DPBH Administrator Cody Phinney said in a statement accompanying the report’s release.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.