Nebraska officials highlight Health & Human Services successes, review strategies

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
Published: Nov. 8, 2021 at 9:29 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Gov. Pete Ricketts and other state officials on Monday morning shared the new business plan for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Ricketts said during a Monday morning news conference, DHHS is working to build upon its successes, from improvements to Medicaid processes to implementation of the new SNAP Next Step program.

In building the plan, “we made sure we looked at the most critical issues that needed to be solved for Nebraskans,” DHHS CEO Dannett Smith said at the governor’s news conference Monday.

Smith said this business plan differs from the plan she put forth when she first took the helm at DHHS as it focuses also on “the infrastructure of the organization in order to have a department that operates above board.”

In addition to improving legal and finance operations, the department is also working to improve its information systems, with a goal of allowing Nebraskans to apply for multiple services online with a single application by April 30, 2022, Smith said. Systems like Access Nebraska, Family First preventions services, foster care, Nebraska 988 project, and youth residential facilities will benefit from this.

DHHS will also be taking a closer look at maternal mortality, setting up a review committee to evaluate data and see what can be done to support women who have a difficult time with pregnancy, Smith said.

The state is also setting up a behavior health three-year strategic plan that will focus on making mental health services inclusive and accessible to communities across Nebraska, she said.

In addition to aligning DHHS initiatives to help people live better lives, Smith said, the department will focus on recruiting and retaining quality employees, acknowledging there has been high turnover in some areas of the department, particularly in youth programs, 24-hour facilities, and child welfare programs. She said pay adjustments in child welfare and nursing staff have also helped in those efforts.

“I do believe that the bonuses we’ve received, the rate increases have helped us with recruitment. It’s now selecting the right person to do the right job here in state government,” Smith said.

Smith said it was too early to tell whether the lack of a COVID-19 vaccination requirement has helped with recruiting efforts, but underscored that the pay increases were making an impact. Ricketts said nursing applications were up 15% since the state launched the different programs, but couldn’t say for sure whether that could be attributed to the lack of a vaccination requirement as the pay increases are likely also a factor.

Other updates

DAILY HOSPITAL DATA UPDATES TO RESUME: With COVID-19 hospitalizations up again, the daily COVID-19 data updates will resume, but Ricketts said he didn’t expect there would be a directed health measure about elective surgeries and such as have been implemented in the past.

He also noted that the state has also added flu and RSV data to the hospital capacity dashboard.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday morning that the state would resume daily updates to its hospital capacity data dashboard.

VACCINATION LAWSUITS: Ricketts gave a quick update on the status of lawsuits the state is involved in regarding COVID-19 vaccination policies. He said the A Circuit will get briefed this week — and could issue an injunction — on the lawsuit filed last week over the federal requirements for businesses with 100 employees or more. While the governor said the current injunction in 5th Circuit “was a very positive sign,” it does not apply to the lawsuit involving Nebraska and Iowa.

The lawsuit regarding federal contracting remains in process, he said.

Ricketts said another lawsuit, regarding Medicare and Medicaid, is pending and may get “briefed up” next week.

Gov. Pete Ricketts gave an update on recent legal filings Nebraska has been involved in regarding federal vaccination policies.

COVID-19 VACCINES FOR KIDS: Ricketts said he encourages vaccinations, but that parents should review the data available from the FDA about the pediatric COVID-19 vaccination and be working with their doctors to determine what is right for them. He said he is opposed to mandating COVID-19 for anyone, particularly children.

“This needs to be a personal choice,” he said.

Ricketts said that this vaccination can’t be compared to other required vaccinations, which have “years if not decades of data for parents to absorb and for us to know the long-term effects of.” Generations of parents have had generations to know about the effectiveness and effects of vaccinations such as the mumps vaccine, which was developed over four years — in the 1960s. Vaccinations for measles and rubella were also developed in the 1960s before being combined into a single shot in 1971.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Monday that was opposed to requiring children to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

TRADE MISSION: The governor said he and a few members of his executive team visited Germany to talk with companies looking to establish themselves in the North American marketplace — often manufacturers — to talk with them about the benefits of investing in Nebraska.

Watch Monday’s news conference

Gov. Pete Ricketts and other state officials on Monday morning shared the new business plan for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

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