COLUMBUS — A Nebraska lawmaker says the state is struggling to offer mental health services as it moves from state-run regional centers to locally run operations.

The state made the decision to switch from institution care to local programs more than a decade ago.

While the state has saved money by closing regional centers, local programs haven't received enough funding, said Sen. Paul Schumacher. That's led to a "real deficiency" in mental health services, particularly in rural communities, Schumacher said.

Those in need of mental health services can be stuck on waiting lists for months before being able to find treatment, according to said Deputy Platte County Attorney Elizabeth Lay.

"There's not enough resources for the number of people who need them," Lay said. "The wait times are indicative of that."

There isn't money in the budget to fund the programs, said Sen. John Stinner of Gering. The state is projected to have a $195 million revenue shortfall for the 2017-19 budget.

"When you don't have money, it's hard to add to a program," he said. "There's a lot of areas we need to take a look at when revenue comes back."

The lack of resources means many mentally ill individuals end up in prisons or at the state-run Lincoln Regional Center instead of receiving the treatment they need, Schumacher said.

"That's the place where you park people when you have nowhere else to park them," he said.

The lack of mental health resources has contributed to overcrowding and increasing costs in the state's prisons, Schumacher said.

The state needs to rethink its mental health care system and focus on individual care, Lay said.

"To say that we're going to come up with one model that fits everybody is ludicrous," she said. "That tunnel vision is what got us into this mess."

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