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Governor on HHS child welfare audit: “This is going to be fixed”

Gov. Dave Heineman has finally said something regarding the scathing state audit of his department of Health and Human Services’ efforts to reform child welfare in Nebraska.

Gov. Dave Heineman

He chose KLIN’s “Drive Time Lincoln” as the venue for his reaction, telling host Coby Mach, “This is going to be fixed.”

He said it’s about children and families and so, “We have to.” However, he said the state will continue to plow forward with partial privatization of the child welfare system, despite State Auditor Mike Foley’s audit, which was critical of the reform, which has increased costs 27 percent. He said Nebraska won’t return to the “failed policies of the last decade.”

“Nobody wants to go back to the old system,” Heineman said, even though he acknowledged that it “hasn’t gone as well as we wanted.”

The governor said he has met with Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly, HHS head Kerry Winterer and the lead Kansas-based contractor, KVC, about the audit but said the it’s not just about the state department, but also courts, law enforcement and providers. He said he asked Kelly for suggestions as to how to improve the system and knows “we need more contacts” with KVC. He also said he was disappointed in some of the private contractors, specifically the Boys and Girls Home’s failure to pay subcontractors.

But he also characterized the problems as inherent in making cultural changes. Heineman declined to address some of the specific problems cited in the audit, such as underqualified employees. He said he won’t micromanage HHS and will let the department head deal with those issues.

Asked about the flap over the fact that the governor received the report after the media, Heineman said he didn’t want to rehash that issue — and then did so anyway, saying his office is only 50 feet from Foley’s and he’s surprised Foley didn’t call him or his chief of staff if he was having problems getting cooperation from HHS in the audit.

“But I don’t want to go there,” Heineman said.

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