OPINION

From the Governor with Pete Ricketts

Nebraska City News-Press

Nebraska has nation-leading pandemic response

Nebraska has come through the pandemic stronger than any other state.  We have the third-lowest mortality rate from COVID-19 among states.  We have the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.0 percent, which is tied for the lowest rate any state has ever achieved!  

Our state’s GDP grew 11.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, which was the biggest increase in America by far.  We were the sixth-best state for getting kids back in the classroom, which has given our children a number of learning and social advantages.

While there’s lots of credit to go around, one of the secrets to our success has been the State’s Center of Operational Excellence (COE).  The COE, which is a division of the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services (DAS), spearheads our continuous improvement initiatives.  

COE training prepared state teammates to adapt quickly to the pandemic.  This enabled the state of Nebraska to secure critical resources like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and testing reagents at a time when many other states had severe shortages.  

State teammates trained in process improvement adjusted operations on the fly to meet unexpected challenges.  This made our state government more agile and responsive than many of our peers.  All of this great work has helped keep people healthy, while also allowing people to live a more normal life.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, COE Director Matthew Singh and his team helped the state operate more effectively and efficiently.  This culture of continuous improvement has been especially valuable over the past year and a half.  

Teammates trained by the COE quickly built a system to track key health data after the coronavirus came to Nebraska.  The operational expertise of the COE helped the state meet the complex logistical challenges of buying and distributing (PPE).  

Additionally, the team’s focus on continuous improvement has helped agencies nimbly adapt their workflows to meet the needs of Nebraskans.  Here are a few examples of how the COE supported Nebraska’s nation-leading response to the coronavirus.

Throughout the pandemic, protecting Nebraska’s hospitals has been our primary goal.  When the pandemic started, there wasn’t a readily available measure of statewide hospital capacity to guide our decision-making.  

The COE helped Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Chief Data Strategist Ashley Newmyer and her team create a process to quickly and accurately track statewide hospital capacity.  This data has helped us ensure Nebraskans have access to the care they need, when they need it.

Skills taught by the COE enabled state leaders to efficiently acquire and distribute PPE.  During the early phase of the pandemic, we recognized the challenges of obtaining PPE like masks and surgical gowns.  

Rather than having hospitals, emergency response teams, and nursing homes try to find these limited items on their own, we made an executive decision to leverage the buying power of the state to purchase PPE in bulk for statewide use.  

DAS Chief Procurement Officer Doug Carlson and Incident Commander Angie Ling coordinated between the Nebraska National Guard and DHHS to help build a logistics network to get PPE to frontline healthcare workers and first responders.  

According to a National Emergency Management Association report in July of 2020, Nebraska was the first state in the country to accumulate a 120-day supply of critical PPE.  

Over the course of the pandemic, the state has distributed more than $52.5 million of PPE, including 39 million pairs of gloves, 5 million surgical gowns, 18.6 million masks, 288,000 containers of disinfectant wipes, and over 50,000 gallons of hand sanitizer.

The Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL) used COE training to help Nebraskans who had lost their jobs.  NDOL received four years’ worth of unemployment claims in just four months from March to July of 2020.  

Due to the unforeseen surge of unemployment claims, the agency initially could not process them with their customary timeliness.    

COE training helped the NDOL to speed up claims processing.  Under normal conditions, NDOL adjudicators attend a six-week, in-person training.  The coronavirus created a need to shorten the training from six to three weeks and to offer it remotely.  

NDOL quickly rethought how to provide the training on an accelerated timeline through virtual training software.  The ability to train teammates more efficiently allowed NDOL to work through claims faster and expedite payments.  This was a huge benefit to Nebraskans who had lost their jobs.

I’ve highlighted a few examples of the COE’s work during the pandemic, but the agency’s work extends to our normal operations as well.  Since May 2016, the COE has facilitated more over 575 improvement projects across 18 agencies resulting in over 630,000 hours of teammates’ time being freed up to better serve Nebraskans.  

To learn more about the COE, visit das.nebraska.gov/coe or contact me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2244.  

Thank you to all our state teammates for the work you’ve done to help our state power through the pandemic.  Your dedication to operational excellence has delivered great results for the people of Nebraska.

Pete Ricketts, Nebraska Govenor