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Vote could delay YRTC move

Plans to move teenage girls from the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers in Geneva and Kearney to a new YRTC on the Hastings Regional Center campus could be delayed following a vote in the Nebraska Legislature Monday.

A bill to spell out guidelines for YRTCs in the state was amended and advanced to final reading Monday, according to the Legislature’s website. LB1140, introduced by the Health and Human Services Committee, would outline a series of requirements for the state’s YRTCs, including separating juveniles based on gender and providing appropriate services and education.

State Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha, chairwoman of the Health and Human Services Committee, introduced an amendment during select file debate that would prevent the state Department of Health and Human Services from establishing a new YRTC or moving a current one until March 30, 2021.

Howard said the amendment was in response to DHHS’ recent announcement that girls temporarily housed in Geneva and Kearney would move to a new building at the Hastings Regional Center campus, which recently was built to house a youth drug treatment program.

Howard called the department’s decision “hasty,” and said the building in Hastings can’t safely accommodate girls currently in the YRTC system because it was constructed for a different purpose.

Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings supported the amendment, saying the Legislature should halt the proposed move so that the city of Hastings can be involved in developing a plan.

“There was no planning,” Halloran said. “There certainly wasn’t collaboration.”

Lawmakers adopted the Howard amendment 32-3. A technical amendment was adopted 38-0, and LB1140 advanced from select file on a voice vote.

Hastings Mayor Corey Stutte thanked the legislators for adding the amendment to postpone the plan until next year.

“We are looking to get some time to evaluate the plan,” he said. “We’re not against the idea of the YRTC moving to Hastings, but we would like to have some information first.”

On Saturday, Stutte sent a three-page letter to senators on the Health and Human Services Committee raising a number of questions about the plan and its implementation. Questions focused on the security of the facility, the involvement of local law enforcement and medical services, education and strategic planning on the campus. He worked over the weekend with various members of the community to compile the list.

“I believe a comprehensive community and statewide focused conversation is needed to develop a strategic plan on mental health and incarceration needs throughout the state,” Stutte wrote in the letter.

He believes a plan is important with a change like this to ensure it’s sustainable in the long term.

“We want to make sure this is something we can maintain from a security standpoint,” he said. “We want to make sure this is the best move for our community.”

But programming decisions involving the YRTC system are made by DHHS, not communities.

The agency’s CEO, Dannette Smith, said over the noon hour Monday that she was planning to make the move to HRC in October.

“We’ve gotten support from the governor to move the plan forward,” she said.

Smith said the intervening 90 days should provide ample time to work with city leaders and stakeholders and she expects to meet with them regularly through the transition process. She said many of the questions raised by city leaders will be handled the same way as in other YRTC communities because it is a statewide program.

“I plan to meet with as many community stakeholders as possible,” she said. “We want them to be well aware of how we’re operating the facility.”

The planned move is one of the next steps in an ongoing effort to redevelop the state’s YRTC system.

Smith said DHHS will be able to use a 24-bed facility at HRC that had been constructed recently for a youth drug treatment program. One wing will be used to house low-risk girls and another wing will serve those at moderate risk.

The YRTC in Kearney will remain the hub for teenage boys. Both male and female youth who need more intensive interventions will continue to be served in a recently established YRTC facility in Lincoln as needed.

Smith said they hope to retrain some of the existing juvenile drug treatment center staff in Hastings to meet the girls’ needs, but didn’t have a specific number of staff that would be needed.

Ultimately, she said, the goal is to meld the YRTC in Hastings into the community, such as it had been in Geneva.

“We want it to become a part of the community,” she said. “We know from experience, when a facility becomes a part of the community, it becomes a success. We want to make the community successful and the facility successful.”

Such community connection worked well for the YRTC in Geneva. Smith said the main factor for moving the YRTC out of Geneva now is the inability to recruit and retain good clinical staff to serve the girls.

“It had nothing to do with the community of Geneva,” she said. “They have been fabulous partners to work with.”

South Heartland 'positivity rate' jumps to 7.5%

The cumulative tally of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in the South Heartland Health District jumped by 10 Saturday through Monday.

Meanwhile, the four-county health district’s “positivity rate,” or number of newly confirmed cases as a percentage of the total number of tests administered, rose to 7.5% for the week of July 12-18. That percentage is up from 4.4% for the previous week, 3.3% for the week before that, and 2.7% for the preceding week.

“This is concerning, as we’ve had increases four of the five weeks since our lowest rate of 0.7%, which was the week of June 7-13,” said Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland District Health Department, in a news release Monday night.

The case tallies for Saturday through Monday, gleaned from South Heartland’s online COVID-19 data dashboard, include seven new cases in Adams County, two new cases in Clay County, one new case in Nuckolls County and no new cases in Webster County for Saturday through Monday.

Since March 18, a running total of 381 South Heartland residents have been confirmed positive for COVID-19. Those cases include 325 in Adams County, 40 in Clay County, 10 in Webster County and six in Nuckolls County.

Of the 381 total positive cases, 346 now have resolved through recovery. Eleven patients — all Adams County residents — have died.

To date, a total of 22 South Heartland residents with COVID-19 have spent time in the hospital. The number of hospitalizations, which had not increased since May 29, ticked up by one sometime on Friday, the data dashboard shows.

According to the Monday night news release from South Heartland, the newly hospitalized patient is an Adams County patient in his 50s.

Of a total of 14 new cases confirmed Friday through Monday, South Heartland said in its news release, one is a child, three are under 20, two are in their 30s, two are in their 40s, two are in their 50s, three are in their 60s, and one is in the 70s. Nine of the patients are males, and five are females.

In the neighboring Two Rivers Public Health District, which serves seven counties to the west of the Hastings area, a total of 14 new cases were reported over the weekend — eight in Buffalo County, five in Dawson County and one in Phelps County. No new cases were reported in Kearney, Franklin or Harlan counties, which are part of the Hastings Tribune news coverage area.

Bever, the South Heartland official, reminded everyone that COVID-19 can be spread unwittingly by seemingly healthy people, so it’s crucial to take precautions.

“This disease is easily spread from person to person,” she said. “People are able to spread the virus two days before they actually experience symptoms. Some people never have symptoms themselves (are asymptomatic), but can spread it to others.

“People can feel fine and pass it along unknowingly. The people they expose may not be so lucky. This is why physical distancing and wearing cloth face coverings is so important — to protect others and reduce community spread.”

Bever emphasized key prevention actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19: staying at home if people have any symptoms — even mild symptoms — consistent with COVID-19; keeping 6 feet of distance between individuals; wearing a face covering as a barrier to keep germs from spreading to others, especially when people are unable to be physically distanced; washing hands frequently with soap and water; and cleaning and disinfecting any frequently touched surfaces.

South Heartland District case counts and trends can be found on SHDHD’s dashboard of local COVID-19 case statistics. This dashboard, along with updates, guidance, news releases and other COVID-19 information and links can be found on the SHDHD website:

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services provides daily updates to Nebraska’s coronavirus COVID-19 cases on its Data Dashboard at

Hastings looking to eliminate camping at Lake Hastings

Citing nuisances as well as safety concerns from other park users and nearby residents, the city of Hastings is looking to eliminate camping at Lake Hastings.

That was one of the proposed changes included as part of a review of city code chapters during the Hastings City Council work session on Monday.

Currently, camping is allowed for up to three days, on the north side of the lake.

“It’s oftentimes very hard to enforce,” City Administrator Dave Ptak said of the three-day limit.

There are no water or electrical hook-ups there.

Lake Hastings is the only Hastings park that allows camping.

“What we’ve seen is it is not attracting true campers,” Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Hassenstab said. “It’s attracting the homeless population. You’re seeing a lot of litter, debris. You’re seeing some drug use, some alcohol use.

“I think back in the day it could’ve been used for the right reasons, but we’re having a tough time with some illegal activity right close to those residential homes.”

When asked how many “true campers” Lake Hastings sees each year, Hassenstab estimated one dozen. He then corrected himself saying that might be a high estimate.

Police Chief Adam Story agreed camping at Lake Hastings has become problematic.

“We don’t see a lot of true camping at Lake Hastings,” Story said. “We see most of it as littering, people who live in treed areas in makeshift tents, a lot of trash and feces. Stuff like that. Staff has to pick it up, clean it up. A lot of things get abandoned there when they are living there and then move on because they violate the three days.”

Hassenstab said the parks department will remove the signage allowing camping.

He currently doesn’t plan on putting “no camping” signs up in the area.

“We may have to,” he said. “I don’t see it being a real expense.”

Councilman Chuck Rosenberg said he asked Ptak about the issue a month ago after Rosenberg was contacted by a resident who lives near Lake Hastings.

“They were having people come up asking to use the restroom and other things,” he said.

Lake Hastings doesn’t have showers. The park’s restrooms are on the south side of the lake, and they lock at 11 p.m.

Among other proposed code changes were park hours, which according to the current code are 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.

Council members approved during their July 13 meeting an ordinance to amend city park closing hours to 11 p.m., which is the closing time posted at parks. The change is intended to provide consistency for law enforcement.

Rosenberg said until he was contacted by that constituent he was unaware camping was allowed at Lake Hastings. Since then, Rosenberg, who lives near Lake Hastings, has visited the park multiple times to assess the camping situation.

“I have seen legitimate camping out there, I will admit,” he said. “There are some folks out there, but if you’re going to close the park at 11, it’s hard to enforce that when you have people camping and using the lake facilities.”

He said it makes better use of Lake Hastings if camping is eliminated.

Other notable proposed code changes include the elimination of a lake patrol officer position that doesn’t currently exist.

Also, the time allowed to remove a tree on private property found to be infected or in a dead or dying position is recommended to be increased from 21 to 30 days.

In other business, the council discussed the city’s policy for closing streets for a block party.

Council members requested requiring applicants to notify neighbors in an area where the street would be closed for a block party.

Council members also requested adding insurance as a requirement for a block party. This was also a recommendation from Street Superintendent Steve Kostner.

At the request of City Attorney Clint Schukei, council also discussed city communications.

Schukei recommended that council members use only their city of Hastings email addresses, and not personal email addresses, for correspondence pertaining to city business.

Storage unit permit recommended for approval

Members of the Hastings Planning Commission have recommended approval of a conditional use permit for three self-storage buildings and storage area in Industrial Park North.

The facility, proposed by applicants Paul and Lynette Krieger of Hastings, would be north of 39th Street, east of Utecht Circle and east of the Smith Softball Complex.

The three buildings will be enclosed by a 6-foot-high chain link fence with electrical gate.

Development Services Director Lisa Parnell-Rowe said the application meets the city’s criteria for a conditional use permit and fits in well with adjacent property use.

The Development Services Department recommended three conditions for the application. Parnell-Rowe said she originally was going to recommend four conditions, but the Kriegers were so thorough and responsive in the application process that one of the conditions already has been met: a more detailed drainage plan with contours to be approved by the city engineer and certifying that the use will sustain 25-year return frequency storm requirement.

One of the requirements was that the applicants’ self-service storage site plan, related narrative and site plan of the outdoor camper storage area with inclusive dimensions of buildings, parking locations, access and easement location notes are approved and applicant agrees to comply to all inclusive details.

There will be compliance with any other applicable regulations that apply.

— The resolution will be filed with the registrar of deeds so as to provide notice to any person examining the real estate records of the existence of the conditional use permit. The recording costs incurred to comply with this section will be paid by the applicant.