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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

December 3, 2018

Omaha World Herald. November 29, 2018

Setting long-term relationship between UNO and UNMC is a major decision for NU

At present, the long-term relationship between the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska Medical Center remains a question mark.

How NU ultimately decides this issue is important not just for the two campuses, but also for Omaha as a community and for Nebraska as a state. This is a key need regardless of whether it’s ultimately decided that keeping the two campuses separate, or merging them, is the best course.

Since 2017, after a national search failed to produce a suitable candidate to lead UNO, the campus has been led by Dr. Jeffrey Gold, serving as interim chancellor there in addition to his duties as chancellor at UNMC. Gold is a strong leader who has demonstrated impressive administrative skills and programmatic vision in his four years at UNMC.

NU President Hank Bounds recently named Gold as the “priority” candidate — and only candidate — to serve as UNO chancellor while continuing in the leadership position at UNMC. If the Board of Regents approves, Gold will hold that two-campus position until June 30, 2022, when NU would begin a national search for a UNO chancellor.

Gold has promoted worthwhile administrative efficiencies over the past year, and UNO and UNMC commendably collaborate in research areas including biomechanics and early childhood.

But the larger question remains: What form will the long-term relationship between UNO and UNMC take? NU leaders and faculty need to use the next several years to examine the best options to maximize the performance of both campuses. Then they need to build consensus for a constructive path forward.

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Lincoln Journal Star. November 27, 2018

Redistricting petition talk brings trend shifts to light

Nebraskans have increasingly used petition drives, with three successful statewide efforts in as many elections, to change state law.

Voters increased the minimum wage in 2014, reinstated the death penalty in 2016 and expanded Medicaid in 2018. In particular, the first and last items marked debates where, for years, the Nebraska Legislature had been loath to act.

Another topic - redistricting following the 2020 Census - that meets those same hallmarks is already generating rumblings of a potential ballot initiative. While reform is needed to take the drawing of new legislative and congressional boundaries out of the hands of elected officials and party influences, the mere suggestion of this petition drive begs questions that must be answered.

First and foremost, Nebraska’s population continues to concentrate itself even more soundly in urban areas. That trend will only accelerate going forward. The state’s five true metropolitan counties - Lancaster, Douglas, Sarpy, Hall and Dakota - now contain more than 1.1 million people, or nearly 60 percent of all Nebraskans.

That disparity, indicative of the oft-discussed rural-urban divide, is expected to grow, with rural areas forecast to concede additional seats in the Nebraska Legislature to urban areas. Though Nebraska’s largest industry will remain agriculture, the number of senators hailing from farm and ranch country will only shrink.

Therefore, no time better than the present exists to strike meaningful accord between these interests, as both are relatively evenly represented for the time being.

That said, Nebraska’s unicameral statehouse provides voters an unparalleled role as the second house as the Legislature - one that they’re beginning to use more forcefully and frequently when they perceive the 49 state senators aren’t acting in line with their interests.

While Sens. Heath Mello and John Murante broke through in 2016 with a bipartisan plan to make redistricting more independent, their bill passed without a veto-proof majority. Following Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto, the measure regrettably died.

Such a fate, however, would not have befallen a redistricting initiative approved at the polls. And such a measure would not have tolerated the egregious partisanship in 2011 that shifted Bellevue from the 2nd Congressional District into the 1st in an unsuccessful effort by Republicans to preserve their grasp on the Omaha-area seat.

Perhaps this increased interest in the petition process should motivate them to reach compromises, similar to Mello and Murante, lest the topic at hand be settled by Nebraska voters. Remember that any voter-approved initiative requires a 33-vote supermajority to be overridden.

The state’s demographics are changing quickly, and Nebraskans’ patience for the partisan games stalling reforms appears to be waning. Both of those trends deserve serious thought amid talk of a 2020 redistricting ballot initiative.

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McCook Daily Gazette. November 29, 2018

‘Perfect storm’ threatens state’s elderly population

County-owned Hillcrest Nursing Home is keeping its head above water for now, but a financial tidal wave is on its way.

Nebraska voters’ decision to expand Medicaid, coupled with vows by the governor and like-minded lawmakers to avoid tax increases at all costs mean that the dwindling number of private-pay nursing home residents see their resources drained further.

Once their money is depleted, they may be forced on the Medicaid rolls as well, exacerbating the problem.

As pointed out by Ron Ross of Rural Health Development, the healthcare management company hired to manage Hillcrest, 33 facilities have closed in Nebraska, and they’re currently being paid $34 per resident less by Medicaid than it takes to care for them.

That’s the result of Medicaid rates being reduced 2.65 percent last year, and another 7.17 percent this year. Since about 60 percent of Nebraska nursing home residents are on Medicaid, that’s a big bite out of the annual budget.

To stay afloat, they’re forced to bill private-pay residents upwards of $225 a day, to make up for the $160 a day Medicaid pays for its residents.

While the county did provide a temporary bailout for Hillcrest a few years back, the county-owned facility, for the most part, has been self-supporting over the years, operating on revenue from its residents.

Nursing homes are an important part of many small communities, providing employment and keeping residents closer to their friends and families.

If they are forced to close, those valuable jobs go away and residents are forced to move many miles away from their friends and family.

To educate the public and state senators on the crisis, a live-streaming conference covering all the angles is Tuesday, Dec. 19, at the Lancaster Event Center. Sponsored by RHD, along with Leading Age Nebraska and the Nebraska Health Care Association, the conference will discuss the factors leading up to the current situation and possible solutions. Live streaming can be accessed at nebraskaconversation.com.

We owe it to our elderly residents to make sure they receive the care they need without being forced into poverty.

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The Grand Island Independent. November 27, 2018

State seeks to give schools more mental health resources

One of the biggest challenges schools face is addressing behavioral and mental health problems among students.

Educators are trained to teach. Far too often, though, they are left dealing with students who are acting out or who are struggling with depression or anxiety.

Sometimes these problems are due to neglect at home. Other times, however, it is a serious medical or mental health issue for which the student needs expert care.

Earlier this month, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced that addressing mental health problems among students is a priority for him and the Nebraska Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Behavioral Health.

First, a toolkit has been assembled for school personnel to help them find resources and tools to use. The Behavioral Health Resources for Schools is something that school officials have requested.

Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health, said they received multiple requests from schools about accessing school-based mental health resources, and as a result, the new toolkit was developed.

“Schools and other educational organizations across the state are in a unique position to help connect youth and families to behavioral health services,” Dawson said. “Education staff are often the first to identify the needs of youth and it is our commitment to support them in making resource information readily available to those who care for and serve Nebraska’s children and youth.”

Second, the state has received a $9 million federal grant that will be split over five years. The grant will be used to promote mental health awareness, response and intervention through school and community-based services for students.

The grant will pay for pilot programs in Chadron, Hastings and South Sioux City. Schools in those cities will look for proactive ways to help students before they need more intensive and costly care.

“School officials consistently tell me that the mental and behavioral health of students is among their biggest concerns and challenges,” Commissioner of Education Matthew Blomstedt said. “We know students are dealing with a lot every day and need extra support. This project and collaboration is designed to find ways to provide that support. We hope to find strategies and solutions in this project that we can build upon throughout the state.”

Helping young people deal with mental health problems at an early age is important. No one wants the problems to grow to where they are acted out in violent incidents at school or elsewhere. The earlier a problem can be detected means that treatment can also begin earlier.

School safety and the mental health or young people are important issues to address. It is good that the state and federal government are making resources available to help local school districts.

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