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Rural Response Hotline Celebrates a Milestone

By Governor Dave Heineman



April 24, 2009

Dear Fellow Nebraskans:

This month we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the toll-free Rural Response Hotline at 1-800-464-0258.

 This hotline provides support to Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers and is sponsored by the Farm Crisis Response Council of Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska. Currently, Nebraska is the only state in which churches are responding ecumenically to the farm crisis through a hotline.

In the early 1980s, legal and emotional stress reached a crisis stage for many Nebraska farm families as land values plummeted, debt piled up, and foreclosures reached a record high. That’s when Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska saw the need and formed a coalition of member church denominations and organizations with a direct interest in confronting rural hardship. The hotline has helped people affected by various rural economic crises for 25 years now. 

From the beginning, coalition members were confident they could gather the human and financial resources to help provide sound financial and legal counsel when requested, and to respond to families with needs for emotional and spiritual support.

The Rural Response Hotline can be a lifeline for many individuals and families. The hotline staff offers callers the help of attorneys, financial advisers, professional counselors, mediators, clergy, and others who have volunteered their expertise to the program. 

As the number of calls increased over time, the need for mental health services became apparent.  The Counseling, Outreach, and Mental Health Therapy Project was created through the Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Behavioral Health and Office of Rural Health. Funding comes from the federal Mental Health Block Grant program. 

Between July 2007 and June, there were 4,157 calls to the hotline. Fifty percent of those calls were related to the mental health voucher program. Callers included farmers, ranchers, agribusiness owners, spouses, and other family members. 

Callers can receive no-cost vouchers for confidential mental health services. More than 167 mental health professionals work with the Rural Response Hotline. Over 100 mental health providers across the state accept the vouchers as full payment for their services. In fiscal year 2008, 2,741 mental health vouchers were mailed out.

When a farmer, rancher, or rural resident calls the hotline, an experienced staff person answers and responds quickly. Some callers just are just looking for someone to talk to about their family’s issues. Others are interested in information about financial counseling, contract disputes, tax and estate issues or mental health counseling. 

Through conversation, operators work to identify peoples’ needs and suggest helpful referrals to community resources. Callers can be referred to members of the clergy, attorneys, financial advisors, mental health counselors, or mediators, depending on their needs. Staff can help callers find resources to help cope with stress, depression, and other mental health issues. 

The Rural Response Hotline has had an on-going positive impact on many rural families.  Work continues on developing and expanding services for farmers, ranchers and others living in rural areas. 

Partners include the Nebraska Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture, Nebraska Rural Health and Safety Coalition, UNL Extension, National Rural Mental Health Association, Farm Aid, Farm Crisis Response Council, farm organizations, and Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska.

Another useful tool that can help link individuals to valuable resources can be found at http://www.dhhs.ne.gov/networkofcare. This easy-to-use online directory allows access to vital information about diagnoses, insurance, pending legislation, advocacy, and the latest research about mental health and substance abuse issues.



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