Better Service for Nebraskans in Need
By Governor Pete Ricketts
August 20, 2019
Governor’s official photo here.
The mission of my administration is to make state government more effective, efficient, and customer-focused for you. I want Nebraskans to spend less time standing in line, waiting on hold, or filling out forms so that they can spend more time enjoying and growing the Good Life. During my time in office, we’ve applied principles from business to our day-to-day operations so that we can better serve Nebraskans. We’ve created annual business plans to work smarter, added performance metrics to provide greater accountability, and engaged in process improvement to cut red tape.
Running government like a business has especially helped our Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) deliver excellent service to customers. DHHS will soon release its business plan for 2019-2020, and the agency’s many noteworthy accomplishments over the last few years are helping Nebraskans live better lives.
Licensed nurses are a great example of the kinds of healthcare workers who depend on the agency’s service. DHHS has improved its nurse licensing process by simplifying applications, streamlining screening, and providing a faster turnaround time. This has allowed us to cut down the number of days needed to deliver a nursing license by more than half. We’ve trimmed wait times from 96 days in 2015 to only 46 days now. The greater efficiency helps new nurses get into the field faster so they can contribute to quality patient care.
In 2015, customers calling ACCESSNebraska—the DHHS program that manages food stamps and Medicaid—spent an average of nearly 24 minutes on hold. The federal government was threatening to fine the state $17 million due to poor performance. But thanks to a new approach and lots of hard work, the agency reduced wait times for economic assistance to less than five minutes by October 2016. The team has maintained call wait times below five minutes for 42 consecutive months now. Additionally, DHHS has shortened wait times for Medicaid assistance to less than five minutes since January 2017. In November 2014, ACCESSNebraska was taking 40 days to process applications for assistance, and now applications are completed in 13 days or less. By the end of the federal fiscal year in 2017, Nebraska ranked second best nationally for accurate and error-free customer service at ACCESSNebraska. In recognition of this outstanding improvement, we received $2.3 million of bonuses to continue to upgrade the program’s level of service.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, is one of the most well-known programs administered by DHHS. The agency runs an innovative reemployment program, SNAP Next Step, to help food stamp recipients find better jobs. So far, more than 150 Nebraskans have enrolled, and the results have been tremendous. On average, committed participants have raised their income by nearly $11,000 a year. Everyone who has found a higher-paying job through the program has reduced or eliminated their reliance on SNAP benefits. Due to the success of SNAP Next Step, DHHS expanded it to Sidney and Lexington this year. The program now serves families in eight communities.
DHHS has also played a leading role to curb opioid abuse in Nebraska along with key partners such as Attorney General Doug Peterson. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Nebraska has the least drug overdose deaths of any state in the nation. A lot of credit goes to DHHS for proactively raising awareness and engaging in prevention to stop opioid abuse from reaching crisis levels here.
DHHS has been at the forefront of providing tools to support the reduction of prescription drug misuse, abuse, and overdoses. Nebraska’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) is a comprehensive patient safety tool allowing medication providers to more easily review a patient’s medication history. Nebraska became the first state to require reporting of all dispensed prescription drugs to its PDMP on January 1, 2018. DHHS has worked diligently to register eligible healthcare providers for PDMP. Our state will continue to provide this life-saving tool free to medical providers and pharmacies.
DHHS has also improved access to a life-saving drug called naloxone. Naloxone kits are actively being dispensed to individuals in the community who are at high risk or know someone at high risk for an opioid overdose. DHHS has implemented naloxone education for prescribers and pharmacists. The agency has also launched a statewide naloxone consumer awareness campaign.
Most recently, Nebraska became the first state to allocate federal funding to train medical experts to combat addiction. DHHS recently launched the addiction medicine fellowship in partnership with the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Attorney General’s Office. The fellowship will address substance use disorders, not only illicit drug addiction, but also the larger public health issues of nicotine dependence, alcohol use, and binge drinking.
If you want to learn more about DHHS’s successes and upcoming initiatives, I hope you will visit www.Governor.Nebraska.gov in the coming weeks to access the agency’s 2019-2020 business plan. Additionally, if you have ideas on how DHHS can better meet the needs of Nebraskans, please contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 402-471-2244.