***NOTE: Though the dollar amount of $1 million was used in this story as what Nebraska DHHS spent getting the LaFleshe Cottage on the Geneva YRTC campus ready for use in March 2020, this number may have been closer to $400,000 to $450,000. While asked several times by this media outlet what the dollar figure was, it was never supplied to The Nebraska Signal. Other media outlets across the state have reported the $400,000 to $450,000 amount.
By GREG SCELLIN
If Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) CEO Dannette R. Smith gets her way, Geneva’s 13 decade run of housing girls at a state Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center (YRTC) will end this October.
The Nebraska DHHS announced last week the next steps in an ongoing effort to redevelop the state’s YRTC system. This fall, the YRTC in Kearney (YRTC-K) will return to providing rehabilitation and treatment exclusively for young men. The young women currently located on the Kearney (16) and Geneva (five) campuses will move to a new 24-bed facility on the modernized Hastings Regional Center (HRC) campus. Both male and female youth with high acuity needs will continue to be served in Lincoln as needed.
“This is the next step in our efforts to align programmatic and behavioral needs for youth,” said Smith in a press release. “When we presented our business plan last year, I made it clear that the plan was an interim one—a necessary step to address the emerging and evolving needs of the people served by the system. We have continually prioritized the best interest of youth in our decision-making and have worked to balance that with our evaluation of program needs and stakeholder input, which often centered on the desire to separate the female and male youth. What we’re trying to achieve is a program that addresses staffing and safety concerns in an environment that is vibrant and fully supports these youth and their ability to thrive. These changes will help us get there.”
32nd Legislative District State Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth, whose 24-state senator sponsored LB 1188 which calls for boys to be treated in Kearney and girls to be treated in Geneva for YRTC services began being debated on Monday on the State Unicameral floor, isn’t on board with Smith’s recent decision.
“I am extremely disappointed with this,” Brandt said. “We have trained staff here (Geneva) and the availability of 20 beds here.”
In March of this year during a media tour at the renovated LaFlesche Cottage in Geneva, Smith justified the use of over $1 million in taxpayer dollars on improvements at the Geneva YRTC as spending the taxpayer’s money wisely and helping the girls in a small setting. During a phone interview on Monday, Smith said her department’s thoughts have changed.
“We don’t know what is going to happen with that building at this time,” Smith said.