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Omaha World Herald Midlands’ Voice
January 8, 2016

Helping Nebraskans Live Better Lives
By Courtney Phillips

It has been an honor to serve the citizens of Nebraska as the CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) since April. Our team at DHHS has worked diligently to improve our responsiveness and service to our state’s most vulnerable citizens, and we already see results so Nebraskans live better lives each and every day. 
Governor Ricketts assembled a dynamic team of directors at DHHS who share their experience and insight to develop high-quality, efficient and customer-friendly services. DHHS directors and staff have stabilized and improved the services we provide Nebraskans.
Evidence is seen in ACCESSNebraska, a call center and online application process that provides access to public benefits. When Governor Ricketts took office, average call wait times were over 21 minutes. From September to December the average wait time ranged from five minutes to under three minutes.
We are making improvements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. DHHS’ national rank in processing applications was 48th out of 53 for timeliness when Governor Ricketts took office. Today that ranking has improved to 32nd and we are committed to continual improvement. We now rank 21st in the country for payment accuracy and 10th for accuracy of application denials. At the end of 2014, the average time to process applications was 40.9 days and a year later we improved the average to 11.5 days.
For the first time, our child welfare system exceeded all six federal standards in 2015. Three years ago DHHS only met two standards. Child welfare workers in five counties are using Alternative Response, a new approach that pulls together local resources to help resolve families’ needs so children can remain in their homes.
We work to safely keep children in their homes to reduce their trauma. Consequently, children who are state wards has dropped significantly. Since last year’s peak of 4,853, children living outside their home dropped nearly 17 percent to 4,081. 
Through a partnership with local Emergency Medical Services, hospitals and a $6 million grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to DHHS, life-saving automated CPR equipment for heart attack victims is being purchased for 360 ambulance services and 80 hospitals in the state. Eight lives have already been saved.
In addition, DHHS received $3.5 million in federal grants to help reduce the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs by working with partners to establish prescription guidelines, increasing provider and patient education, and enhancing Nebraska’s prescription drug monitoring program.
DHHS facilities have also seen success. The Lincoln Regional Center is the only psychiatric hospital in the state recognized in 2015 as a Top Performer on Key Quality Measures by The Joint Commission, the leading accreditor of health care organizations in the U.S. Just eight of 25 hospitals in Nebraska that submitted data were recognized.
The two Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers in Geneva and Kearney are accredited following audits by the American Correctional Association.
Also, the U.S. Department of Justice ended oversight of the Beatrice State Developmental Center in recognition of the progress made in protecting and serving residents. While we implemented reforms that transformed the service delivery system, we also greatly expanded and enhanced community capacity and improved outcomes for people with developmental disabilities. We continue to work hard to ensure individuals are served in supportive and safe environments.
Governor Ricketts is committed to providing quality services for our veterans and all four Veterans Homes were re-certified. The Norfolk, Bellevue and Grand Island homes were designated deficiency free. The Scottsbluff home received a single deficiency – unusually low by national standards. DHHS continues to look ahead with innovative initiatives to help veterans with even higher levels of service.
Our Medicaid and Long-Term Care Division issued a request for proposals for Heritage Health, a new integrated Medicaid managed care program, that will combine physical health, behavioral health, and pharmacy programs. A simplified system will coordinate services to clients.
We are developing a business plan that will serve as a roadmap through June 2017. Its focus will be to continue to stabilize and improve services so Nebraskans will receive the best possible experience in receiving services and assistance from DHHS that improve their lives. The plan will also ensure a new level of transparency and accountability for the benefit of taxpayers.
Nebraskans can be proud of the improvements made by our team and partners thus far, and can be confident that this agency has renewed its commitment to helping people in need.
Courtney Phillips is the new CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, appointed in April 2015 by Governor Ricketts.