Gov. Ricketts Highlights Process Improvement Successes during State’s Coronavirus Response

News Release
For Immediate Release: 10/14/2020

Media Contacts: 
Taylor Gage, (402) 471-1970
Justin Pinkerman, (402) 471-1967

Governor's Media Release:

LINCOLN – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts and the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services (DAS) highlighted process improvement successes in Nebraska state government related to the State's coronavirus response. 

“The Center of Operational Excellence has improved our delivery of vital services during the pandemic," said Gov. Ricketts.  “At a time when Nebraskans have urgently needed PPE and unemployment benefits, the COE has helped our agencies respond with greater efficiency and effectiveness."

The Center of Operational Excellence (COE) is a division within DAS and leads an enterprise-wide effort to instill a culture of continuous improvement throughout state government.  The COE utilizes Lean Six Sigma (LSS) methodologies to train State teammates in process improvement practices.  This training equips them to complete projects in a more effective and efficient manner in order to maximize State resources.  Earlier this month, Governor Ricketts proclaimed October as Center of Operational Excellence Month in Nebraska.

During the State's response to the pandemic, many state agencies used process improvement best practices to confront new challenges while continuing to provide critical services to the people of Nebraska. 

The coronavirus pandemic created a demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at healthcare facilities, long-term care facilities, schools, and other organizations on the front lines of the pandemic.  The Materiel Division within DAS was tasked with the procurement of PPE for distribution throughout the state.  With the goal of prioritizing PPE delivery to organizations that needed it the most, DAS created a PPE portal to forward incoming requests directly to their distribution warehouse.  In the months following the initial portal deployment, the team leveraged customer feedback, performance metrics, and process improvement techniques taught by the COE to redesign the process to ensure a better customer experience and reliable PPE distribution. The improved process has contributed directly to the successful distribution of $37 million worth of PPE, including 2.5 million respirator masks, 2.1 million gowns, 12.1 million gloves, 4.4 million cloth masks, 15,400 infrared thermometers, and 33,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to the 19 Local Public Health Districts across Nebraska.  A National Emergency Management Association July 2020 report showed that Nebraska was the first state to have a 120 day surplus of critical PPE ready for distribution to those who need it.

“To meet the challenge of this pandemic while keeping government services open, we've had to be innovative, flexible, and learn as we go," said DAS Director Jason Jackson.  “The process improvement training and techniques from the COE have equipped us with the capability to do that." 

In response to coronavirus, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) implemented the Nebraska Accommodation Project (NAP) to provide temporary housing for Nebraskans needing a safe place to quarantine or isolate.  To ensure Nebraskans were able to take advantage of NAP, DHHS created a one-stop portal to provide the necessary resources to find temporary housing.  DHHS has also served as liaison for the National Guard mobile testing teams, including the scheduling of mobile testing locations, management of supplies, coordination with local health departments, and leading rapid response to “hot spots" throughout the state.  

“As we continue to navigate the pandemic, the mission of DHHS is underscored daily.  We are truly helping people live better lives," said DHHS CEO Dannette R. Smith.  “We remain steadfast in our commitment to serve all Nebraskans, especially those who are most vulnerable.  Our Division Directors and teammates have assisted with developing creative and innovative solutions in an effort to best support our residents across the State."

The Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) encountered four years of unemployment claims in a four month span at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.  In order to get through this volume of claims, NDOL re-evaluated their processes using LSS methodologies and came up with new ways to be as efficient as possible. Teammates from all divisions of NDOL learned new skills and systems, and the agency enlisted external entities to share the workload.  The overall training process was accelerated and training was completed online.  Important information was uploaded to claim files faster, and the number of steps in the adjudication process was reduced.

The Governor's executive orders sped up the processing of claims and created a more flexible unemployment system to respond to the pandemic.  Focus shifted to the current cause of unemployment instead of an individual's entire employment history.  Further, work search requirements were waived, and work availability requirements were expanded to better fit the new work-from-home model created by the pandemic.  Because of these efforts, NDOL was able to pay out 85.3% of new unemployment claims within 28 days and 76.1% of these claims in 21 days during the period of the pandemic with the highest volume of claims.

Heartland Workforce Solutions, which houses NDOL's Omaha reemployment services team, closed in Omaha during the pandemic.  This was a major challenge as the pandemic greatly increased the need for reemployment services.  Through collaboration and process improvement practices, the NDOL team quickly found a new location at Metro Community College's North Omaha Campus.  The rapid relocation allowed NDOL to provide reemployment services to 2,462 Omaha customers in a 40-day window.

“The pandemic has brought about unprecedented challenges for the agency," said Commissioner of Labor John H. Albin.  “Each of our divisions, along with our partners, continues to adapt to take on these challenges and provide quality customer service to workers and employers impacted by COVID-19." 

At the news conference, COE Director Matt Singh also announced an update to the Black Belt program within the LSS training provided by the COE that was implemented last year.

“In 2019 we created the Black Belt Program to establish a team of continuous improvement experts to tackle the most pressing issues across the State," said COE Director Matthew Singh.  “This team has helped with several successful process improvement projects, including the creation of a One Stop License Portal for state businesses, and we are looking to add even more individuals to the Black Belt team by the end of the year."

To learn more about the COE and how it is impacting Nebraska, visit the COE website by clicking here.

Video from today's press conference is available by clicking here.



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