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A System That Cares

By Governor Pete Ricketts

April 12, 2016


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Providing services and a safety net for the most vulnerable among us is one of the core duties of state government.  This is an expression of the pro-life values that underpin our way of life.  From our foster care system to behavioral health services, the state deeply invests in the physical, social, and emotional well-being of thousands of Nebraskans every year.


The primary agency that provides services for the most vulnerable Nebraskans is the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).  It is no secret that the agency has faced some challenges in the past.  Under fresh transformational leadership, however, the department has found a new direction.  Last year for the first time, our foster care system met all six federal standards.  Earlier this year, DHHS announced the creation of a new integrated Medicaid managed care program, which will coordinate physical health, behavioral health, and pharmacy programs to simplify access for clients.  Last month, call wait times at our ACCESSNebraska economic assistance call centers fell to a new low of 1 minute and 3 seconds, down from a high of almost 24 minutes in August 2014. 


The good news from DHHS keeps building.  This past week, DHHS and I announced the creation of a new behavioral health System of Care for children.  This new program will integrate behavioral health services by connecting and coordinating the work of state child-serving agencies, non-profits, local government organizations, behavioral health care providers, families, and patient advocates.  The strategic plan that will serve as the basis for the System of Care included the feedback of over 1000 stakeholders.


Behavioral health services are an important part of how we care for our most vulnerable citizens.  According to the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health, over 37,000 children in Nebraska experience behavioral health disorders.  Additionally, about 16,000 Nebraska adolescents ages 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode in 2014, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.


There is no question it can be confusing and oftentimes challenging for families to access behavioral health services for their children in Nebraska.  Old approaches to delivering services have been marked by fragmented service delivery and high rates of out-of-community placements.  With the new System of Care, DHHS and its partners will deliver services in a more effective and customer-oriented manner.  This new delivery method will eliminate the need for families to navigate multiple systems to find services to meet the needs of their children.


Over the next year, DHHS will be laying the groundwork for the System of Care.  The agency will implement a phased work plan, build a database of all behavioral health funding sources, and develop a plan to inform partners, families, and stakeholders about the System of Care goals, common principles, and new infrastructure.


As with many of our initiatives, we will be measuring results to track progress in the System of Care.  Within three to five years, DHHS expects to see increases in school attendance, school performance, and the percent of youth and young adults living in home settings.  Additionally, they expect to see a decrease in the average age of first contact with our behavioral health system and the cost per youth receiving services.


This is just the beginning.  I look forward to sharing more news about the System of Care as DHHS implements it in the coming years.  If you have experience or feedback on our mental health services provided by the state, I hope that you will contact my office at 402-471-2244 or  Your stories help provide insights from the frontline on how services are delivered and inspiration as DHHS continues to improve how they help Nebraskans build better lives.  We look forward to hearing from you!