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Learning From Our Neighbors

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the first ever Kansas/Missouri Behavioral Health Coalitions Conference. Each year the states have done one individually, but they realized together, they are stronger and joined forces. It was amazing to see what they were able to pull off as they brought at least 1,200 people together from both states who share a passion for serving the behavioral health communities in their areas.

Ryan Leaf, former NFL player and in recovery from his addiction, and Suzy Favor Hamilton, an Olympic athlete who has suffered from mental illness, led the conference with their keynote presentations, but there were dozens of breakout sessions covering a slew of topics that were extremely informative as well. One thing I found fascinating was that Ryan Leaf has only been out of prison for two-and-a-half years, and his story was raw and brutally honest. To hear the pain he experienced and that others experienced around him because of his addiction, was extremely moving, but to see how his recovery is going was inspiring. I had heard Suzy Favor Hamilton before, but as always, she shared her story in an honest, graceful manner that put you right there with her as she was going through it.

I met some incredible individuals who work in community mental health centers, private offices, non-profits, and those who held a variety of positions throughout these groups. To see the vast spread of experience and positions at the conference was so encouraging, because everyone had the opportunity to learn from each other, as well as the experts. At one point, one of the organizers said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could make it a tri-state event in a few years and invite Nebraska????” I chuckled a bit, but thought in my mind, yes! What a great experience for others to take part in! I don’t know if it will ever happen, but I do know that we can all learn so much from each other, and no matter if you’re in Nebraska, Missouri, or Kansas, many of the issues remain the same, and the passion to help those living with mental illness and addictions is high!

I sat through a few sessions on policy, and listened to directors out of Kansas talk about their Medicaid program – the roll out, the issues, and the evolution to Kansas Care 2.0. This is obviously a very timely topic given the current status of Heritage Health. They had realized what went well, what didn’t go well, and what needs to change to best serve those individuals in the state’s Medicaid Program. It was a relief to know we aren’t alone with our issues in Heritage Health, encouraging knowing there are solutions out there, but still disheartening to know that at the end of the day it is those people who rely on Medicaid who are suffering and need our help.

All in all it was a great experience, and a reminder that all we have to do is reach out and we can learn a lot from those around us. We are all working to fight the same fight and together we are much stronger than alone . . . especially here in the Midwest; it really is a place like nowhere else!


Julia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation

Julia Hebenstreit is the Executive Director of The Kim Foundation. She received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation since 2011, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves on the Executive Committee for Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, as the 2015 Hill Day State Captain for the state of Nebraska, and as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, BHECN Advisory Committee, RESPECT Advisory Board, Connections Advisory Board and the Project Propel Planning Group.