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Delivering Better Customer Service

By Governor Pete Ricketts

June 4, 2018


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The central goal of my administration is to make state government more effective, more efficient, and more customer-focused.  Running state government with a client-centered approach is especially important for our most vulnerable Nebraskans who interact with state government as well as taxpayers who rightly expect the state to be a good steward of the money entrusted to us.


One of the biggest opportunities to make state government work better for the people has been the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).  We have improved the operations of the agency by doing things like establishing annual business plans for the agency, delivering professional licenses faster, and embedding process improvement teams to identify opportunities to deliver a higher level of customer service and save taxpayer money.  For the purpose of this column, I will focus on two areas where we have seen significant strides recently: mental health services and ACCESSNebraska.


This past week, we wrapped up Mental Health Awareness Month.  Nebraska does very well in the area of mental health.  U.S. News and World Report ranks us as fifth best in the nation for mental health, and over the past couple of years, we have been working to build on this strength. 


In 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services and I teamed up with partners across the state to launch the new Nebraska System of Care (NeSOC) for children and families.  The NeSOC is delivering a client-centered, customer-first approach to mental health care.  Prior to NeSOC, most child-serving agencies were working independently of one another.  Our mental health system did not have a systematic, formal way to ensure families and children were involved in system and service planning.  People and resources were generally operating in their own silos.  With the NeSOC, the State of Nebraska is leading a coalition of public and private partners who are working together.  This collaboration is coordinating a statewide effort to leveraging our collective resources and respond to specific needs of individual communities and families.  Family voices are incorporated through family and youth councils.  And private dollars are supporting youth and families with services not provided by the state. 


The NeSOC has quickly delivered results.  In its first year, more than 600 young Nebraskans in crisis have received services.  A new statewide mobile crisis response service has served over 500 youth and families.  In the same timeframe, the number of Nebraska youths who have needed to utilize the most intensive and restrictive services, such as inpatient care and residential treatment, has declined from 7.1 percent to 6.7 percent.  This has saved in the range of $800,000 to $2.6 million, giving the NeSOC the flexibility to address the needs of more Nebraskans.  The NeSOC’s focus on providing the right level of care for our kids, also means a high percentage of them are staying at home with their families while they receive services.  More than two-thirds of the youth in crisis assisted by the NeSOC remained in the home while receiving services.  For our work, Nebraska has been recognized with the B4State4 Leadership Award from Mental Health America, a leading community-based mental health nonprofit. 


Another example of how DHHS has improved operations is our ACCESSNebraska call centers where Nebraskans apply for food stamps and Medicaid services.  When I entered office, the federal government was threatening to pull $17 million in funding for the program because of poor performance.  This cost would have fallen on Nebraska taxpayers.  Working with my office, the DHHS team brought the average call wait time down from an overall average of nearly 24 minutes to hitting our target of five minutes or less for 27 straight months.


Call wait times have averaged below five minutes for 19 consecutive months at Economic Assistance centers and 16 consecutive months at Medicaid centers.  At the same time, Nebraska has been ranked second best in the nation for our food stamp denial accuracy rate and 10th best in the nation for payment accuracy.  This work has delivered better service for our most vulnerable citizens and protected Nebraska taxpayers. 


These are just a couple of examples of how DHHS and other agencies are successfully taking a customer-centered approach.  Nebraskans expect and deserve effective and efficient state government, and we will continue to identify new ways to deliver a higher level of service.  We will continue to make state government work for you.  If you have comments you would like to share with me about your experience with the state, I hope you will contact my office.  Please call 402-471-2244 or email