OPINION

From the Governor with Pete Ricketts

Nebraska City News-Press

Helping Nebraskans lead better lives

The state of Nebraska prioritizes helping Nebraskans lead better lives by promoting physical and mental health.  This work has taken on a whole new sense of urgency during the coronavirus pandemic.  Faced with the worst public health emergency in over a century, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has stepped up admirably to serve our citizens.

I could not be more proud of how DHHS performed during the pandemic.  DHHS set up our Test Nebraska program and made it available statewide.  Nebraska was among the first states to offer no-cost, burden-free testing to anyone.  Test Nebraska doubled our testing capacity during the critical, early stage of the pandemic and delivered over 785,000 results.  Our goal was to turn around Test Nebraska results in 48 hours.  We met and exceeded that goal, averaging 35 hours from swab to result.

DHHS coordinated with local health departments that were overwhelmed by the volume of COVID-19 contact tracing work.  DHHS trained around 1,000 state teammates to perform contact tracing.  This served the dual purpose of helping people monitor their health and of reducing additional exposure in the community.

DHHS also quickly rolled out Nebraska’s vaccine program.  We prioritized residents at the greatest risk from COVID-19.  We’ve now fully vaccinated 89.4 percent of our seniors age 65 or older.  To date, we’ve administered 2.3 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in Nebraska.

Dr. Gary Anthone, DHHS director of public health and the state’s chief medical officer, has been in close communication with our state’s hospitals to make sure every Nebraskan has access to the care they need, when they need it.  

DHHS collaborated with hospital systems to set up a statewide transfer plan to better manage capacity.  The state also supported hospital systems in their efforts to provide cutting-edge monoclonal antibody treatments to reduce the severity of COVID-19 illnesses.

All of this pandemic-related work was on top of the day-to-day responsibilities DHHS continued to perform to help Nebraskans lead better lives.  DHHS found innovative ways to deliver these ongoing services to Nebraskans during the pandemic.  

Last week, we unveiled the DHHS Business Plan for 2021-2022.  It includes 17 priority initiatives and sets goals for the current state fiscal year.  It also recaps the agency’s recent accomplishments.  Here are a few highlights:

DHHS has been using process improvement principles to improve operations in Medicaid health services.  Our Medicaid health plans have been exceeding their requirements for service delivery.  For example, these health plans have a contract goal to process 90 percent of claims within 15 days of receiving them.  They are exceeding this requirement with 95 percent of claims processed within 10 business days.  Likewise, our Medicaid plans have a requirement to resolve appeals within 45 days.  They’ve been able to resolve 95 percent of appeals in less than half that time (20 days).

DHHS has taken a proactive approach to preventing and treating substance abuse.  In 2016 DHHS, UNMC, and the Attorney General’s Office entered into an innovative partnership to combat opioid overdose.  Their coordinated efforts have helped to lower the rate of opioid prescriptions in Nebraska and to lessen the number of drug overdose fatalities in our state.  

Nebraska’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) allows medication providers to more easily review a patient’s medication history.  Nebraska became the first state in the nation to require reporting of all dispensed prescription drugs to its PDMP on Jan. 1, 2018.  Patients identified as receiving more than 150 doses of a short-acting opioid in a 30-day period (excluding cancer patients) are flagged.  Every physician who has prescribed opioids for that patient is then contacted.

DHHS has been very successful in winning federal grants to support mental health in Nebraska.  The Division of Behavioral Health has received $6.7 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  This grant allows us to conduct outreach to connect Nebraskans with counseling services and other resources.  

These behavioral health initiatives have helped Nebraska achieve the lowest overdose mortality rate in the nation according to the CDC and to rank No. 4 nationally for mental health.

The DHHS Division of Children and Family Services runs an innovative reemployment program called SNAP Next Step.  This program helps food stamp recipients find better jobs.  

Overall, 208 families have found new employment since 2016.  Of these families, 60 percent no longer need SNAP benefits and 40 percent had a decrease in SNAP benefits.  Of the families we’ve helped, the average monthly wage increase is $1,903 monthly or $22,843 annually.  That’s an amazing statistic and reflects the life-changing impact of the program.

The DHHS Division of Developmental Disabilities (DHHS – DD) is continuously raising the bar to better serve Nebraskans.  For example, DHHS reimburses families in the Disabled Children’s Program and Medically Handicapped Children’s Program for expenses such as mileage and hotels when they travel to see a specialist.  Many of the families enrolled in these programs are financially disadvantaged.  Long waits to receive reimbursement can be a financial hardship.  

DHHS - DD enlisted the State’s Center of Operational Excellence to improve the way they process reimbursements.  By leveraging electronic/fillable forms, the COE helped DHHS reduce the time to process reimbursements from 15 days to 2.67 days (on average) for an 82 percent reduction.  That’s impressive improvement, and it makes a huge difference to families in Nebraska as they manage their budget while caring for disabled children.

You can find the newly released plan on the DHHS website at dhhs.ne.gov/Documents/DHHS-Business-Plan-2021-2022.pdf.  

If you have questions about the agency’s work to help Nebraskans lead better lives, email me at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244.  I’m excited to see what DHHS can accomplish over the next year!

Pete Ricketts, Nebraska Govenor