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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

July 3, 2017

Omaha World-Herald. June 30, 2017

Closing of facilities putting a strain on Nebraska’s behavioral health providers

Churn in the business world is commonplace. Some companies last; others fail to make it and are forced to close shop.

Nebraska is lately seeing another type of churn, a troubling one: the closing of some entities that provide mental health and substance abuse services, and stressed financial conditions for others.

ABH Addiction & Behavioral Health Services, an Omaha-based small business that has provided services to adolescents and families, recently closed. ABH, which operated in Omaha for 17 years, was serving more than 50 youths at the time of its closing and had a waiting list for its services.

Journeys, a 16-bed residential therapeutic group home for teenagers in Omaha, closed in January.

Heightened regulations by state and local governments and insurers, as well as inadequate reimbursement for services, compelled ABH to close, Angie Bellinghausen, its president and clinical director, told The World-Herald.

It’s true that in some cases, other providers can pick up the burden. That’s what happened when three organizations commendably took over duties at Campus for Hope, an addiction treatment center in Omaha’s north downtown, when Catholic Charities stepped away from providing such services.

But many mental health and substance abuse treatment providers in Nebraska are under major financial stress due to problems with claims processing and authorization of care under Medicaid. Nebraska lawmakers heard testimony on the problem Tuesday.

The reimbursement problem is also affecting other Nebraska health care providers, such as doctors, nursing homes and home health providers.

Nebraska shifted on Jan. 1 to a new Medicaid processing system called Heritage Health. Under it, providers of health care or behavior health services can choose among three managed care companies administering the bulk of the state’s Medicaid program.

The new approach facilitates treating patients’ range of conditions, mental as well as physical. But so far the claims processing has in many cases failed to reimburse providers accurately and in a timely fashion.

At least $27 million worth of claims have not been paid by the managed care companies in more than 60 days, Jessica Thoene, a speech-language pathologist from Kearney, told state senators. She spoke on behalf of an association of Nebraska providers including hospitals, home health and behavioral health providers, nursing homes and doctors.

“It’s a huge issue,” Thoene said. “There are a lot of providers in financial crisis.”

CenterPointe, a behavioral health treatment center with programs in Omaha and Lincoln, took out a line of credit for the first time in 44 years to pay its bills in the wake of the reimbursement failures.

The state Department of Health and Human Services has given one of the Heritage Health managed care companies — Nebraska Total Care, a subsidiary of St. Louis-based Centene Corp. — until today to submit a plan for correcting its problems or else face state sanctions.

State officials have important work to do on this issue. Nebraska lawmakers should adequately fund provider rates. HHS should follow up on its demands on Nebraska Total Care by continuing its work to stabilize the reimbursement process in the wake of what State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard termed “very disturbing” testimony this week.

The providers across the state who help Nebraskans with mental health and substance abuse issues do invaluable work. Nebraska leaders need to take every step possible to make sure this major public need is being met.

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Kearney Hub. June 30, 2017

4-H auction opportunity to nurture new farmers

A rose to ... business leaders who understand the role they play in nurturing the next generation of farmers and ranchers. One way to encourage young people to take up careers in agriculture is by recognizing their efforts at the county fair. Members of 4-H work hard preparing the animals they exhibit, and in the process a seed often is planted that grows into pride of accomplishment and the personal drive that’s necessary to succeed in farming and ranching.

This week the Kearney Area Chamber of commerce encouraged its members to support the county fair’s annual 4-H livestock auction by joining the Buffalo County 4-H Livestock Auction Booster Club or learning how to become a bidder.

Selling a ribbon-winning animal is an exciting moment for 4-H’ers, and it’s an opportunity for businesses to make a difference in our ag-dependent community. To learn more, dial 237-3101.

A rose to ... the Nebraska Department of Roads, which put out the call this week to Nebraskans who can turn a clever phrase. The Roads Department, through its Friday Safety Messages, is promoting seat belt usage to reduce traffic fatalities. The department also wants to reduce cell phone use while driving, but it’s time to freshen up the message and make them humorous.

Some examples of what the Roads Department is after: “Your mom called, are you buckled?” and “Don’t Pokémon and drive.”

If injecting a laugh into a serious message works, we’re all for it. Only about 83 percent of Nebraskans are using seatbelts. Also, the number of accidents traced to driving while distracted is rising as motorists ignore laws against texting and driving.

A Friday Message should be three lines of text, with a maximum 18 characters per line (spaces count). Submissions should be sent to NDOR’s website: http://www.roads.nebraska.gov/news-media/friday-safety-message-idea-submission/

How about: “That seatbelt looks good on you.”

A raspberry to ... vandals who caused $150,000 in damage to the old Kearney High School and crushed the spirit at First Baptist Church, which is working hard to transform the school building into a glorious new faith center.

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The Grand Island Independent.  June 30, 2017

College Street change a safety issue

Although it was a close vote Tuesday night, the Grand Island City Council took the right action in voting to close College Street where it cuts through the Grand Island Senior High campus.

The Grand Island School District has sought this action for years, mainly for two reasons.

First and foremost is safety. With approximately 2,500 students, Senior High is almost a city unto itself. Hundreds of students cross that street on certain days. Many are students going to athletic fields for PE classes. Others are band students crossing it for field show practice or athletic teams for practice.

School official Virgil Harden called it a “hallway.”

“We have a street running right through a hallway with hundreds of kids. It doesn’t make sense to have a public street running through a hallway with hundreds of children at risk,” Harden said.

Closing the street will help avoid what could be a tragic accident, if a driver was to lose control of a vehicle or just not see a student.

Second, it will give Senior High the feel of a campus. With a school that large, it’s good for the entire school area to be self-contained, without a street going right through the middle of the campus.

In addition, vacating the street will allow a planned $9 million Memorial Stadium renovation project to go on without concerns of it intruding onto College Street. More design options will be available.

For years, residents of the area have opposed the closing of College Street, and many still do. Some use the street to travel west to West Lawn Elementary School, Principal Financial, Main Street Station mall and the Northwest Commons mall area. To the east, one can connect with Broadwell Avenue.

However, traffic patterns have changed over the years. Just this year, the city opened a widened and improved Capital Avenue. Capital went from a two-lane clogged road to a five-lane main road on which traffic moves swiftly.

The Capital Avenue improvements give a safe and convenient alternative to using College Street.

The city will have to watch traffic on State Street, south of Senior High, to make sure it doesn’t get too backed up.

As a city — and a school — grow, changes are inevitable. The closing of College Street between Lafayette and Custer avenues is a change whose time has come.

The safety of students at Senior High has to be a paramount concern. Closing College Street there will improve safety and make it much less likely that a tragic accident will occur.

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Lincoln Journal Star. June 30, 2017

Internet access crucial for rural areas

More than 80 years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order called the Rural Electrification and Telephone Service Act of 1936. It provided federal loans to bring utilities to expensive-to-serve and hard-to-reach rural areas.

One of the act’s chief proponents was a senator from Nebraska named George Norris, who recognized the importance of electricity and phone service to the economic and social well-being of rural communities. Without service, rural America couldn’t compete in a changing world.

Well, the ensuing eight decades have brought more changes. Broadband internet and cell service are today’s equivalent to electricity and phone. The hurdles to bringing faster internet to rural America are almost identical to the ones in the 1930 - expense and logistics. The solutions will require equal creativity and, most likely, a little federal oomph. And Nebraskans stand to benefit if this gets figured out sooner rather than later.

President Trump’s recent pledge to ford the digital divide as part of an infrastructure plan is heartening, but it’s certainly not a straight line from a president’s lips to a Logan County farmer’s laptop. Ultimately it will require action on lots of governmental levels and partnerships with providers.

The need, however, is unquestionable. And it’s a need that should be felt by all Nebraskans, not just those who want to stream a two hour movie in something close to two hours. All Nebraskans have a vested interest in a thriving rural lifestyle. Some want a place to go home to. Some want a place of peace. Some simply want affordable food, made possible by farmers and ranchers having access to better technology. And all will benefit by creating more places in the state where innovation and new business ideas can take root.

The Journal Star’s Nick Bergin talked with rural residents who need access to faster internet for work. And what parent hasn’t wanted to simply download a movie and plop the kids in front of it for a couple hour break. Slow internet seeps into so many aspects of life that many of us take our relatively reliable and speedier service for granted. Solutions in rural areas, Bergin found, are expensive or nonexistent.

Right now it may not seem that access to faster internet is a matter of life and death like electricity is. But electricity may have seemed more luxury than necessity in the 1930s. If we want a thriving rural lifestyle in Nebraska, we need to take steps now, creative ones, to fix this digital divide.

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