Newsroom > DHHS News Release

Omaha World Herald Midlands’ Voice
January 16, 2017

Courtney Phillips: Government working to help Nebraskans live better lives


The writer is CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
At the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, 2016 was a year of continuous improvements, sustainable progress and helping people live better lives. A commitment by Gov. Pete Ricketts to stabilize and improve services for the state’s most vulnerable citizens resulted in advances ranging from improving call wait times for critical services to releasing a first-ever business plan.
The 25 initiatives in our business plan serve as a road map to achieve Gov. Ricketts’ goal of improving state government through strategic actions and measurable outcomes, creating a more effective and efficient agency, reducing regulatory burden and improving customer service.
Progress is evident in continued improvements to ACCESSNebraska. Last month, the Legislature’s ACCESSNebraska Oversight Committee commended the department, and recommended that full oversight be returned to the agency. Average call wait times for economic assistance decreased from 14 minutes in August 2015 to under five, and wait times for the Medicaid call centers have been consistently under five minutes. Timely processing of 94.44 percent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program applications ranks Nebraska 17th in the nation compared with 48th in April 2015. 
We improved our application process for developmental disability services. The agency consistently heard the process was confusing and cumbersome, and worked in partnership with families, individuals and stakeholders to create efficiencies. Time to determine eligibility was slashed from an average of 69 days to 14. The application was streamlined from 14 pages to three, and developmental disability services were added to the ACCESSNebraska website to access information any time.
We prioritized a customer-friendly process for the approximately 176,000 health care professionals the department licenses annually. Simplified applications, streamlined screening and faster turnaround times are improvements made to nurse, medication aide and other licensing processes. Turnaround time for nursing applications is 38 days versus 96. For medication aides, it’s nine days instead of 39. More improvement projects are underway.
The department also launched the Nebraska Behavioral Health System of Care for children. This statewide public-private partnership builds on existing behavioral health resources and relationships and realigns existing dollars so families can more easily navigate the behavioral health system. It gives children and families a voice and a meaningful role in the decision-making process which positively impacts their care.
Our Medicaid program received federal approval to cover behavioral modification services to support the needs of children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental services, and their families. These services will help many of the children we serve through Medicaid lead more fulfilling lives.
We stabilized the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney. With a focus on treatment and safety of youth, staff and the community, changes resulted in reduced walk aways and assaults. From October 2015 to May 2016, walk aways totaled 51; since then, walk aways have totaled five. Staff assaults decreased 20 percent and youth-on-youth assaults decreased 29 percent.
Another highlight was achieving national public health accreditation, showing we have high performing public health programs and services that meet the needs of Nebraska communities and citizens.
Looking briefly at 2017, Medicaid’s new managed care program Heritage Health began operations Jan. 1, integrating physical health, behavioral health and pharmacy services into a single comprehensive and coordinated system. Having one health plan responsible for a more complete range of services encourages better health outcomes and more cost-effective services.
Also on Jan. 1, the department and the Nebraska Health Information Initiative launched an enhanced prescription drug monitoring program as part of our prescription drug overdose prevention initiatives. Health care professionals who prescribe and dispense medications now have online access to patients’ controlled substance medication histories, and all dispensed prescriptions for controlled substances must be reported to the system.
Everything we accomplished this past year and hope to accomplish in 2017 is due to our dedicated team. We have embraced a can-do culture that is transforming the Department of Health and Human Services. We’ll maintain our momentum and strive for continuous improvements to help Nebraskans live better lives.