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Office of Governor Pete Ricketts

Gov. Ricketts Thanks Health & Human Services CEO for Helping Transform Services for Nebraskans

For Immediate Release:

5:35PM CT on August 23, 2018


Media Contacts:  

Taylor Gage, 402-471-1970

Eric Maher, 402-471-1974


Media Release:

Gov. Ricketts Thanks Health & Human Services CEO for Helping Transform Services for Nebraskans

Gov. Ricketts and DHHS CEO Dr. Courtney Phillips (center right) during a 2016

visit with teammates to discuss the agency’s first business plan in Gering.


LINCOLN – Today, Governor Pete Ricketts thanked Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr. Courtney Phillips for her work in transforming the agency’s services for Nebraskans.  Dr. Phillips has served as DHHS CEO since 2015.  Later this year, she will be departing from the State of Nebraska to serve Governor Greg Abbott of Texas as Executive Commissioner for Texas Health and Human Services Commission.


“When I hired Courtney, we pledged to transform the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services,” said Governor Ricketts.  “Across the agency, she and her team have successfully been fulfilling that pledge.  Her practice of issuing annual business plans has brought new focus and discipline to the agency.  This has made a real difference in the lives of Nebraskans.  We are grateful for her service and congratulate her on this exciting new opportunity.”   


“Thank you to Governor Ricketts for the chance to serve, and thank you to Nebraskans for being so welcoming and supportive.  It has been a great honor and personally fulfilling,” said Dr. Phillips.  “I am very proud of our team and the work we have accomplished together over the last few years.  Whether it is improving customer service at ACCESSNebraska or giving our Medicaid clients more options with Heritage Health, this agency is delivering on its mission of helping people live better lives.”


Prior to serving in Governor Ricketts’ cabinet, Dr. Phillips was Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) for former Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.  Dr. Phillips had steadily risen through the department’s ranks since beginning her career at DHH in 2003.  She worked in roles ranging from the Medicaid program manager overseeing the Money Follows the Person and waiver programs to serving as the agency’s chief of staff.


Dr. Phillips’ last day with the State of Nebraska will be October 14, 2018.  The Governor’s Office has commenced succession planning for the position.




Under the leadership of Governor Ricketts and Dr. Phillips, DHHS has been delivering a better, higher level of service to Nebraskans.  In 2016, the agency announced its first-ever business plan, which has led to two subsequent business plans in 2017 and 2018.  You can read the plans by clicking here.


The plans have resulted in significantly better service for Nebraskans helped by the agency’s five divisions.  Highlights from those results are outlined here.


Division of Behavioral Health – Director Sheri Dawson

  • System of Care: Through partnerships, DHHS is delivering more integrated mental health services through the Nebraska System of Care (NeSOC) for Children, Youth, and Families initiative.  NeSOC is designed to better coordinate resources and give a voice to families and children seeking mental health services.  In its first year, more than 600 young Nebraskans in crisis received services.  During that 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.  NeSOC now has the flexibility to serve more Nebraskans because of savings achieved in the range of $800,000 to $2.6 million.  For this work, the state has been recognized with the B4State4 Leadership Award from Mental Health America, a leading community-based mental health non-profit.


Division of Children & Family Services – Director Matt Wallen

  • ACCESSNebraska: When Governor Ricketts 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 the Governor’s Office, Dr. Phillips and 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 21 straight months.  Nebraska has been ranked second best in the nation for our food stamp denial accuracy rate and 8th best in the nation for payment accuracy. 
  • SNAP Reemployment: Nebraska’s SNAP/Department of Labor Reemployment Program, which has received national recognition, expanded to Hastings, Columbus, and Norfolk over the last fiscal year.  The program helps participants achieve greater stability, a higher income, and less reliance on government assistance for those who participate and successfully complete the program.  This pilot reemployment program helped 36 percent of participants find a new job.  Those families have increased their pay approximately $10,000, and each has reduced or eliminated their need for food stamps.


Division of Developmental Disabilities – Director Courtney Miller

  • Service Applications: By working in partnership with families, individuals, and stakeholders to create efficiencies, the application for services was reduced from 14 pages to three, and was placed online so it can be accessed easily.  Additionally, the division went to work cleaning up a waiting list for services that had the names of deceased individuals and others who had moved away.  Today, the division is making eligibility determinations for families in 5 days on average down from 69 days, a nearly 93 percent reduction.  In 2017, the agency made more service offers to Nebraskans with developmental disabilities than in the previous five years combined.


Division of Medicaid and Long-Term Care – Director Dr. Matthew Van Patton

  • Heritage Health: Nebraska’s Medicaid program, which serves over 240,000 clients, is utilizing a new program administration model, which is delivering traditional services and also bringing a new level of oversight to ensure that the agency is a good steward of taxpayer dollars.  Three plans are providing services and are subject to rigorous oversight by state and federal officials.  While other states who have adopted this “managed care” model have faced big challenges during their transition, Nebraska’s transition was comparatively very smooth.  The team at DHHS proactively worked to identify challenges ahead of time, and have quickly addressed others as they’ve arisen. 


Division of Public Health – Director Dr. Tom Williams (recently retired)

  • Prescription Drug Monitoring: DHHS is at the forefront of providing tools to support the reduction of prescription drug addictions and overdoses.  On January 1, 2018, Nebraska became the first state in the nation to require reporting of all dispensed prescription drugs to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, a comprehensive tool allowing medication providers to more easily review a patient’s medication history. 
  • Professional Licensing: Medication aides saw significant improvement as the division reduced the registration process from 39 days to an average of 16 days over the past 15 months, even as the number of applications and renewals has increased.  The nurse licensing process has been reduced from 96 days in November 2015 to 37 days in November 2017.  Additionally, licenses are now delivered electronically and people can print them off at their own convenience.


Furthermore, Dr. Phillips worked with the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs (NDVA) to smoothly transition management of the state’s Division of Veterans’ Homes as they merged with NDVA.