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YRTC expands from two to three locations

GENEVA — The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services announced the restructuring of the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center system in Nebraska on Monday, with a continued but reduced role for the campus at Geneva.

As restructured, the system will include three campuses with three different roles, beginning January 2020.

YRTC-Kearney will serve as a hub for the YRTC system. There, both male and female youths will go through intake, assessment and Phase programming.

The Phase model is a daily scoring system based on youth behavior and will dictate movement within the program.

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Progress is being made in repairs to LaFlesche Cottage at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Geneva.

As young women progress through the program, they may finish up their programming at YRTC-Geneva to help with the transition back into the community. The location will be less restrictive than YRTC-Kearney and “mimic a home environment,” according to a statement from DHHS. YRTC-Geneva will house three to six females in the recently repaired LaFlesche Cottage.

The third and newest piece of the YRTC system will be YRTC-Lincoln, established at the Lancaster County Youth Services Center. The location will have 20 rooms divided into separate pods and house both males and females.YRTC-Lincoln will be the YRTC system’s most restrictive facility for youth that are not responding to treatment at Kearney. The intent is for youth to transition back to YRTC-Kearney after their behavior has stabilized at YRTC-Lincoln.

Within the restructured system, male youths could spend their time entirely in YRTC-Kearney. Females would spend the beginning of their time in YRTC-Kearney, then move to YRTC-Geneva before going back into communities. Either group could go to YRTC-Lincoln if the youth needs more restrictive programming, then return back to YRTC-Kearney.

Dannette Smith, CEO of DHHS, said this change in structure addresses current issues, like housing all youth in Kearney, while being a first step in reforming youth services.

“The three-pronged approach addresses immediate needs while ensuring the safety and well-being of the youth we serve. It also allows for long-range strategic planning done in collaboration with key stakeholders,” Smith said.

Geneva Mayor Eric Kamler said the decision to reduce the size and role of YRTC-Geneva is disappointing.

“This is disappointing news, and it’s a pretty big blow, not just to the community but I think also the juvenile girls that were a part of the community,” Kamler said. “I really do think that the community of Geneva welcomed these girls when they would go out in the community and try to readapt to living in society.”

With this new system, the staff of YRTC-Geneva will be reduced — from about 70 staff members to about 30. Kamler said he is hopeful that YRTC-Geneva can grow with staff or grow in operations.

“We’re not giving up, and there’s still a lot of things that we can work with DHHS and (the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services) and several state senators on,” Kamler said.

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Progress made at LaFlesche cottage at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Geneva.

The high school on the campus in northwest Geneva will retain its accreditation and be used, though not to full capacity, Kamler said. The building could be used by DHHS employees for operations that aren’t directly related to YRTC, though that has not been confirmed, he said.

YRTC-Geneva will be the least restrictive of the three YRTC facilities. YRTC-Kearney will be more restrictive than YRTC-Geneva but less restrictive than YRTC-Lincoln. YRTC-Kearney will have equivalent programming for male youths as YRTC-Geneva has for female youths.

YRTC-Geneva is the only location that is will be gender-specific.

The new system will provide targeted treatment to youth with different levels of acuity. The ability to separate more disruptive youth was a major concern during a hearing in Geneva on Oct. 2.

This announcement comes about two months after damages to one of the YRTC-Geneva cottages forced the girls’ transfer to Kearney. The girls have been housed at Kearney since then, as repairs have been made on the Geneva campus.

The YRTC system is for 14- to 18-year-olds who have been referred to the system for breaking the law and have been through less-restrictive treatment. When the buildings were fully repaired, the Geneva campus could house 82 youth.

The Geneva campus is owned by the Department of Administrative Services but is operated by DHHS.


Poll: Americans agree on many aspects of U.S. identity

PHOENIX — Majorities of Americans agree that diversity strengthens the country and that values such as constitutional rights, a fair judicial system and the American dream are key to the nation’s identity, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

But the poll also reveals a striking division on some aspects of national identity by partisanship and racial or ethnic background. Americans are closely split over whether it’s better for immigrants to embrace a single U.S. culture or add their own variations to the mix.

Immigration and identity have been a major part of the national conversation under President Donald Trump, who has cracked down on people entering the United States illegally and promoted construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump recently pushed down the annual cap for refugees allowed into the U.S. to a historic low of 18,000.

The poll finds majorities of white, black and Hispanic Americans all say diversity makes the country stronger, and the share of Americans saying diversity strengthens the country has grown slightly over the last year, from 53% to 60%.

About three-quarters of Democrats think diversity makes the country stronger, compared with about half of Republicans.

Jerry Perry, 63, of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, is a great-grandson of slaves and lifelong Democrat who thinks diversity is a positive.

“It makes the country a lot richer as it brings together all the tribes from all over the world,” said Perry. “No one should be afraid of that. God needed to have a place where every nation could be represented.”

But the poll finds division on how Americans think immigrants should contribute to the mix. Fifty-one percent of Americans say there should be an essential U.S. culture and set of values that immigrants assume upon arrival, while 46% say the country should be comprised of a blend of cultures and values that changes as new people arrive.

Still, Americans are somewhat more likely to say recent immigrants to the U.S. have retained their own cultures than that they have adopted an essential American one, 54% to 43%.

Tracy Torres, 33, a Democrat living in Palm Springs, California, says she thinks new cultures brought by immigrants make the United States better.

“I don’t think people should whitewash or forget their heritage,” said Torres, whose parents came to the United States from Mexico. “There is a lot of fear that comes with the word ‘immigration,’ but I think we should celebrate our differences.”

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that immigrants should adapt to a shared American culture, 77% to 32%, while Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say recent immigrants actually have done that, 57% to 28%.

“I believe that immigrants need to come to America legally, and they need to understand our culture, the Constitution and our laws,” said Sandy Raisanen, 56, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to think a shared use of the English language or a shared culture and set of values are very important.

And more than twice as many Republicans as Democrats call it important for the nation’s identity that culture is grounded in Christian religious beliefs, 59% to 24%, or brought to the country by the nation’s early European immigrants, 51% to 22%.

White Americans are slightly more likely than black or Hispanic Americans to say a culture established by early European immigrants is very important, 37% versus 27% and 28%.

Americans nevertheless agree on several aspects of the nation’s identity. At least three-quarters of Republicans and Democrats say a fair judicial system, liberties defined by the Constitution, and “the ability of people living here to get good jobs and achieve the American Dream” are very important. Wide shares of white, black and Hispanic Americans say the same.

Majorities across political and demographic groups also call shared use of the English language important, though some are more likely to say so than others.

The poll shows that support for increasing legal immigration has ticked up from a year ago: 35% of Americans now say the number of legal immigrants to the U.S. should be increased, up slightly from 29% in August 2018.

Immigration remains a weak point for Trump, with 40% approving and 59% disapproving of how he’s handling the issue. Republicans overwhelmingly approve of Trump on immigration and Democrats overwhelmingly disapprove.

There are also stark differences by race and ethnicity, with white Americans divided on the president’s handling of the issue, while roughly 8 in 10 black Americans and Hispanics disapprove.

“He has not shown an inkling of mercy” toward immigrants, said Perry, who’s among the African Americans who disapprove of current immigration policies.

Fernando Rivera is a Republican who enthusiastically supports Trump and his immigration policies, even though Rivera’s own father was a Mexican immigrant.

He is among the 38% who support construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Forty-six percent of Americans are opposed.

Rivera, 48, says he believes immigrants today are treated much better than his father was when he came to the U.S., and there is a danger they can become a burden on safety net programs.

Now working for a Texas state agency for vocational rehabilitation, Rivera said the oil refinery jobs in his hometown of Grove, Texas, now go largely to Hispanics from countries ranging from Cuba and the Dominican Republic to Chile.

“I’ve always felt I was at the bottom of the totem pole, and then here came some more people to knock us out,” said Rivera. “Sometimes it feels very crowded here.”

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The AP-NORC poll of 1,286 adults was conducted Sept. 20-23 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods and later were interviewed online or by phone.


Nebraska among states where ACA health insurance premiums to drop significantly

WASHINGTON — Consumers will have more health insurance choices next year under the much-debated Obama health care law and premiums will dip slightly for many, the Trump administration announced Tuesday.

President Donald Trump was elected on a promise to repeal “Obamacare.” But despite his repeated efforts the program has stabilized three years into his administration. That may be short-lived.

The administration is asking a federal appeals court in New Orleans to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional, an overhang of uncertainty clouding its future.

For now, the Department of Health and Human Services is touting a second consecutive year of positive-sounding numbers. An additional 20 insurers will participate for 2020, expanding consumer choice in many states, officials said. Nearly 70 percent of customers will have three or more insurers from which to pick a plan.

About 10 million people are covered through the health law’s insurance markets, which offer taxpayer-subsidized private plans for people who aren’t covered on the job. Former President Barack Obama’s namesake law will be 10 years old next year.

Premiums for a hypothetical 27-year-old choosing a standard plan will decline 4% on average in 2020 for states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website, the Trump administration said. About a dozen states run their own sign-up websites, but most rely on HealthCare.gov.

A low-cost midrange plan for that hypothetical 27-year-old will charge monthly premiums of $374 next year, officials said. The law’s income-based subsidies can drop that to around $50.

However, people who don’t qualify for income-based assistance must pay full price, and that’s before any deductibles and copays. Unsubsidized customers may just decide to go uninsured, particularly if they’re healthy.

A previous Republican Congress repealed the law’s unpopular penalty to get more people signed up — fines for going without coverage.

Six states will see premiums decline by 10% or more, officials said. They are Delaware, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah.

Three states — Indiana, Louisiana and New Jersey — will see premiums increase 10% or more.

Even as it pursues “Obamacare’s” demise in the courts, the Trump administration is trying to take credit for the program’s current stability.

“Until Congress gets around to replacing it, the president will do what he can to fix the problems created by this system for millions of Americans,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said. “The president who was supposedly trying to sabotage this law has been better at running it than the guy who wrote it.”

Independent experts say it’s more complicated than that.

They credit the Trump administration for working with a dozen states to approve waivers that can bring down premiums by setting up a backstop system to pay bills from the costliest patients.

However, experts say the original design of the law’s subsidies is probably the major stabilizing force. People eligible for financial assistance are insulated from price spikes because they pay only a fixed percentage of their income. Because their own costs didn’t change much, customers with subsidies kept coming back to the market through years of double-digit increases in list-price premiums.

“As long as the subsidies are in place the changes that are happening ... are not going to push this market off a cliff,” Standard & Poor’s director and lead analyst Deep Banerjee said.

Experts say yet another factor is that insurers that have stuck with the program have learned over time how to operate profitably.

Although the program is stable, enrollment has been slowly eroding since Trump took office, from 12.2 million in 2017 to 11.4 million this year. The slippage has come mainly in the HealthCare.gov states, where the federal government runs sign-up season. Slashing the ad budget was one of the Trump administration’s early actions.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has recommended that the administration follow standard federal practices by setting sign-up goals and actively managing the program to meet enrollment targets. Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the administration doesn’t believe such targets are needed and instead her agency has focused on keeping the HealthCare.gov website running smoothly and improving the enrollment experience for customers.

Verma also disclosed that the administration has made some “minor” changes in how it reports data about the program. While those tweaks appear to be in the weeds, they’re likely to get close attention from Democrats who accuse Trump of “sabotage” of the health law.

Sign-up season starts Nov. 1 in most states and runs through Dec. 15. States that run their own open enrollment may have different dates. Coverage starts Jan. 1.

The appeals court in New Orleans could issue its ruling during this time, but Azar said he’s not concerned even if the judges say the whole program should be tossed.

“Our messaging would be to keep calm and carry on,” he said, noting that the case is expected to go to the Supreme Court. “There will be no immediate disruption to anyone.”


News
Jury selection process to continue Wednesday in murder case

Prospective jurors will return to the courthouse Wednesday to continue the jury selection process in the murder trial against a 22-year-old Hastings man accused of killing a 19-year-old man in 2017.

“We still have miles to go,” Judge Terri Harder said as she released most of the potential jurors for the day.

Voir dire began Tuesday morning in Adams County District Court with nearly 100 citizens summoned to possibly serve jury duty.

Of those called to the courthouse, 36 were selected randomly for the jury panel, called a venire.

Judge Harder asked a series of questions of the panel to determine if any knew the attorneys or defendant in the case, as well as whether serving on the jury for an anticipated nine days would cause an undue hardship.

As members of the venire were excused, replacements were called at random from the remaining citizens who had been summoned.

After Harder’s questions, Corey O’Brien with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office asked more questions of the panel to determine any outside knowledge of the case.

After a 10:30 a.m. break, the judge and attorneys for both sides started meeting privately with each member of the 36-member panel. The group broke for lunch about 12:45 p.m. and continued the process an hour later.

About 4:15 p.m., Harder and the attorneys returned to the courtroom, where 13 of the venire had been excused. The empty seats were refilled, and the private questioning continued with the newly added members of the panel while the rest of the potential jurors were released for the day. The prospective jurors were asked to return at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday to continue the process.

Daniel B. Harden faces charges of first-degree murder, use of a firearm to commit a felony, and conspiracy to commit robbery. Harden is one of two men accused of trying to rob 19-year-old Jose “Joey” Hansen and killing him in the process in 2017.

After the jury is selected, testimony is expected to begin Wednesday. The trial is scheduled to take two weeks, with an expected conclusion on Nov. 1.

Authorities say an attempted robbery led to Hansen’s death on Sept. 11, 2017, in the 700 block of West G Street. Hansen was killed by a single gunshot wound to the back. The conspiracy charge stems from an alleged plan between Harden and co-defendant Deante Mullen to arrange a drug deal with the intent to commit robbery.

Mullen, 21, of Lincoln and Katherine Creigh, 23, of Lincoln also have been charged in the case.

Mullen faces charges of first-degree murder and use of a firearm to commit a felony. He pleaded not guilty March 5, 2018. A pre-trial hearing in his case has been set for Nov. 12 at 11 a.m.

Creigh, Mullen’s girlfriend at the time, was charged with accessory to a felony for allegedly helping Harden and Mullen avoid arrest after the shooting. A preliminary hearing in Creigh’s case has been scheduled for Nov. 7 at 2 p.m.

First-degree murder is a Class 1 or Class 1A felony punishable by death or life in prison, respectively. Use of a firearm to commit a felony is a Class 1C felony punishable by five to 50 years in prison. Conspiracy to commit robbery is a Class 2 felony punishable by up to 50 years in prison. Accessory to first-degree murder is a Class 2A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.