Making Government Work


By Governor Pete Ricketts

As 2016 comes to a close, it’s hard to believe that January will mark the halfway point in my term as your Governor.  My administration works daily to make state agencies more effective, more efficient, and more customer-focused.  Over the last two years, we have focused significant resources on transforming an agency that was in dire need of reform when I took the reins of state government.  That agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), is critical because it provides vital temporary assistance and a safety net for some of our most vulnerable Nebraskans.  In past years, the agency faced numerous challenges including federal fines, special investigative committees, and failed programming.  With new leadership and intense process improvement initiatives, the agency is now on a new path.  DHHS is focusing on their core mission of helping Nebraskans live better lives.

 

One of the first areas of DHHS reform under my administration was ACCESSNebraska, home to our call centers for public assistance.  Before I entered office, Nebraskans were waiting on hold for an average of up to 24 minutes to apply for programs through ACCESSNebraska.  The Nebraska Legislature had formed a special investigative oversight committee to look into the backlogs and had called the program a “failure.”

 

When I took office, my team partnered with ACCESSNebraska staff to identify process improvements that significantly reduced call wait times.  Over the last year, call wait times have averaged below five minutes for 10 out of the last 11 months.  Acknowledging the many improvements, the Legislature announced plans last week to dissolve the oversight committee, citing “increased functionality and productivity.”

 

Fixing ACCESSNebraska is important for three reasons.  First, it protects you, the taxpayer.  The previous poor performance of the call centers resulted in the federal government threatening to withdraw $17 million in federal funding.  This move would have forced the state to budget more of your tax dollars for existing services.  With our improved performance, this is no longer a risk.  Second, it means that our most vulnerable citizens are receiving better service in their time of need, and have access to resources to help get them back on their feet.  Third, it also means DHHS can focus more time and resources on improving customer service in other areas.

 

Since ACCESSNebraska is performing at such a high level now, we are looking to utilize it in new ways to improve customer service in other areas.  This week, we announced improvements to the application process for Nebraskans seeking services for Developmental Disabilities (DD).  DHHS has added the application and other information about DD services to the ACCESSNebraska website, and has reduced the application from 14 pages to three.  These changes mean the time necessary to determine eligibility has been slashed from 69 days to an average of 14 days—a nearly 80 percent reduction.

 

We also unveiled WIC Journey, a new system that helps to administer DHHS’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program.  The program serves over 37,000 clients through 13 local WIC agencies delivering services at 106 clinics across the state.  WIC provides healthy food along with nutrition counseling and breastfeeding support to low-income Nebraska families.  These upgrades replaced a 20-year-old computer system, and eliminated the need for 23 paper forms.  In the past, some WIC offices closed down during regular business hours just to process paperwork.  With the new, streamlined system, offices no longer have to shut down to do paperwork, allowing them to focus more on helping women and children.

 

These are just a few examples of what my administration has accomplished over the last two years because of a relentless focus on reforming DHHS.  There is more to come!  Earlier this year, DHHS CEO Courtney Phillips and I unveiled the agency’s first-ever business plan, and I look forward to sharing with you continued successes as the agency works to execute the initiatives contained in their plan.  We’ll be updating you in the coming months as those initiatives prove successful.  Thank you to Courtney Phillips and her team at DHHS for their work to help Nebraskans live better lives—it truly is a team effort.

 

We are working to instill a team mentality focused on improving customer service in all our agencies.  If you have an experience you would like to share, please email my office at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244.  I want to hear your feedback, so we can continue to make state government more effective and efficient for you!

Making Government Work for You


Over the past few months, I have often spoken about the importance of helping our state’s most vulnerable citizens.  Because of this focus, my administration has sought ways to make government more customer friendly.  This past week, I joined the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to showcase some of the improvements we have made to ACCESSNebraska, the system many Nebraskans use to access public benefits.  These improvements follow the appointment of a new leadership team at DHHS and a commitment by my office to move the public benefits system forward after hearing about the challenges it faced from Nebraskans across the state.

 

In 2008, the State of Nebraska created the ACCESSNebraska system to change its strategy for the administration of economic assistance and Medicaid programs.  The implementation of the new strategy and changes to the program’s design fell short of expectations, including the level of service provided to its clients.  As I have traveled the state, I have heard stories from Nebraskans who have faced serious challenges, such as long call wait times, while trying to utilize the system.  For instance, long call wait times at the ACCESSNebraska call centers can drain valuable pre-paid phone minutes, making it difficult for clients to navigate the program.

 

Thanks to collaboration between the state’s Chief Operating Officer Felix Davidson and the team at DHHS, ACCESSNebraska has started to move beyond some of these challenges.  Recently, call wait times for the call centers servicing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fell from a two-year average high of 23 minutes and 51 seconds in August 2014 to an average low of 4 minutes and 42 seconds in September 2015.  While we have been able to improve service to our customers, the state has also been able to improve accuracy when it comes to determining who is eligible to receive benefits from the state.  Between October 2014 and April 2015, Nebraska’s SNAP denial accuracy rate rose from 17th-in-the-nation to 8th, and we continue to work to improve this ranking and the program’s integrity.  Consistent with my commitment to hold the line on spending, this has been accomplished without additional appropriations.

 

Nebraskans tell us that improvements to ACCESSNebraska are having a meaningful impact on their lives.  In the past couple of months, the Tiangwa family applied for SNAP benefits, and they were approved and processed the following day.  “This is really important for me and my family,” said Ms. Tiangwa. “I’m so thankful and grateful for the help.”  A DHHS partner who helps clients apply for services thanked the Scottsbluff ACCESSNebraska team for handling her cases efficiently and accurately and added that the team has made a “vast difference for her and her clients.”  These are just a couple of examples of how these changes are making a difference.

Governor Pete Ricketts

Governor Pete Ricketts

Senators Lydia Brasch and Senator Al Davis Request State Action, Oversight in Nebraska Nursing Home Closings


On Monday, May 4, Senator Brasch and Senator Al Davis (District 43) along with Governor Pete Ricketts, representatives of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL), and private representatives of the nursing home care community met to ensure proper oversight and due diligence are undertaken to protect the residents and employees of various nursing home facilities.

 

Deseret Health Group announced last week on April 25 it would close its facility, Logan Valley Manor, in Lyons. This announcement coincided with a notice to also close another facility, Ainsworth Care Center, in Ainsworth. Deseret Health Group has now withdrawn care of all four of its facilities in Nebraska.

 

Currently, DHHS is working to provide receivership status for the Lyons and Ainsworth facilities. Receivership provides the state the ability to work with a private entity to take custody, manage, and protect the people, property, and assets involved. Receivership provides a temporary, legal remedy while a more permanent, long-term solution is determined.

 

Initially, Deseret Health Group gave a 30-day notice to the Lyons and Ainsworth facilities. However, federal law requires a 60-day notice be given with regard to the closing of a nursing home facility that accepts Medicaid and/or Medicare payments. Deseret has complied with the 60-day notice, but could not be reached for comment.

 

DHHS, under the new leadership of Courtney Phillips, has been actively involved at both facilities in Lyons and Ainsworth. DHHS made on-site visits to ensure adequate care was being offered and continues to monitor each facility on a shift-by-shift basis.

 

DOL has been working diligently to try to ensure the payment of wages for employees. Employees of the nursing home facilities were scheduled to be paid on April 30. However, Deseret Health Group is yet to provide payment of wages as of May 6. The DOL also sent a Rapid Response Team to both the Lyons and Ainsworth location to speak with employees. The Rapid Response Team provides services regarding filing wage complaints, new employment opportunities, and the requirements for filing for unemployment benefits.

 

Senator Lydia Brasch, representative of District 16, voiced concern for the recent announcement stating: “I am truly concerned for the residents and employees of Logan Valley Manor as they undergo this difficult transition in light of Deseret Health Group’s recent and abrupt actions. Yet, I remain hopeful as I believe the residents, family of residents, employees, citizens, businesses, and government agencies will step up and provide needed care and support for those affected.” Senator Brasch additionally indicated her desire for local groups, charitable organizations, businesses, and church communities to step in where necessary and offered gratitude for all those who have already sacrificed to ensure the health and welfare of the residents and employees of Logan Valley Manor.

 

Any questions or concerns for DHHS may be addressed by contacting them at 402.471.3324 (between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.), 402.499.4417 (after hours, weekends, or holidays), or by e-mail to eve.lewis@nebraska.gov. To file a wage complaint with the DOL, call 402.471.2239.

 

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DHHS Fact Sheet for Deseret Facility Closures, Logan Valley Manor


Department of Health and Human Services

Fact Sheet for Deseret Facility Closures

 

DHHS has been notified of the closings of both Ainsworth Care Center in Ainsworth and Logan Valley Manor in Lyons.

We are closely monitoring the situation at both facilities through email and telephone contacts as well as on-site visits by health care facility surveyors to assure:

  • Appropriate care and services are being provided;
  • Residents are being placed in alternate facilities in an appropriate and timely manner; and
  • The facilities remain in operation until the last resident is placed.

 

Is a 30-day or 60-day notice required?

  • There is a federal requirement that covers both Medicare- and Medicaid-certified facilities. Such a facility must give a 60-day notice to residents of the facility prior to closure.
  • DHHS requires a 30-day notice for closure of a facility that is licensed by the State.
  • When two sets of regulations apply, the facility must follow the most stringent which, in this case, is the federally required 60-day notice.

 

What if the facility doesn’t follow the requirements?

  • There is potential discipline for the facility administrator, but that would be determined by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

 

What is DHHS’ role?

  • The role of DHHS is to ensure the care and safety of the residents and licensure of the facility. What occurs regarding the sale or purchase of the facility is a business decision, and DHHS is not involved in that process.

 

Where can people go to find alternate placements for residents?

 

Contact information for DHHS if you have questions or concerns:

  • Monday thru Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, you can call 402-471-3324.
  • After hours or on weekends or holidays, you can call 402-499-4417.
  • You can email at any time eve.lewis@nebraska.gov. You may also contact the State Ombudsman’s office at 1-800-942-7880.

 

 

May 5, 2015

Our First 100 Days


Governor Pete Ricketts

Governor Pete Ricketts

By Governor Ricketts

The first 100 days of my administration have moved quickly as we have focused our priorities and resources on a single goal: Growing Nebraska. As I have said before, the key to growing our state for the next generation starts with creating jobs, lowering taxes, pushing back on regulation, and expanding educational opportunities. To achieve these goals and objectives, we have spent the first days of my administration focused on hiring transformational and innovative leaders and building a budget that reflects the fiscal restraint we need to provide Nebraskans with the tax relief they need and deserve.

 

We are building a great team. With the help of an executive search firm and the financial support of Nebraskans across our state, we were able to identify directors for key positions in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Economic Development. These leaders are already making a difference.

 

Here are just a few examples of the wonderful work my team has been doing these first few months: DHHS CEO Courtney Phillips announced with my office just last week a new transparency initiative that creates public performance metrics for ACCESSNebraska. The data will be updated online every month. This measure will help hold the program’s performance accountable not only to my office, but also to the people of Nebraska that this program serves. In the Department of Correctional Services, Director Scott Frakes is taking steps to upgrade software that calculates sentences to remove manual processes and reduce the probability of error in sentence calculations. Finally, Nebraska Department of Economic Development Director Brenda Hicks-Sorensen and Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach are planning the first trade mission of my administration which will take us to the European Union in June to promote Nebraska business and agriculture.

 

As a part of my budget recommendation, I put forward a plan to slow the growth of government and provide tax relief – the “3 percent plan.” If the Legislature holds the line on spending to around the 3 percent mark that I recommended in my budget while revenue continues to grow, the difference can provide tax relief to hardworking Nebraskans. Nebraska’s 2015 Business Tax Climate Index ranking by the Tax Foundation ranks us at 29th for competitiveness. If we plan to continue to create good-paying jobs for the next generation and to stay competitive nationwide and globally long-term, our business tax climate must improve.

 

I am pleased that the Appropriations Committee has adopted my recommendation to transfer an additional $60 million a year into the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund. This represents a nearly 43% increase and would bring the total transfer to the fund for the biennium to nearly $400 million. This is tax relief for all property owners in Nebraska. While the full Legislature must still consider this recommendation, this represents significant property tax relief if adopted. There are additional tax relief measures under consideration in the Legislature for which I continue to advocate, and there is still time for the Legislature to provide additional property tax relief this year.

 

During these past few months, we made some exciting announcements. A few weeks ago, my office announced that Nebraska attained the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, and this month it dropped even further to 2.6%. Last week we revealed that Sheldon Station in Hallam, Nebraska would become the first large utility to utilize hydrogen which will be provided by the first clean carbon black plant in the United States. This week, I joined leaders from the University of Nebraska to unveil Suji’s Korean Cuisine as the first international business to join Nebraska Innovation Campus. These stories are all great news for Nebraska and serve as evidence that our state is growing and vibrant.

 

This is just the beginning of our quest to grow Nebraska. As we work together, I will continue to listen to your ideas on how we can grow our state. Please contact my office at 402-471-2244 or pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

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