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DHHS lays out plan for addressing problems at YRTC

State Senator John Lowe of Kearney addressed a crowd about the problems at YRTC.


Last Wednesday morning, Kearney Mayor Stan Clouse opened a press conference in the Kearney City Chambers to discuss what is going on with Kearney YRTC and some of the plans that have been laid out by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

“Our citizens have expressed a lot of concern, they have contacted elected officials and reach out to see what we can do to help make an important facility in our community better, protect our citizens, protect our employees, who are also our friends and neighbors,” said Mayor Clouse. 

For the past eight years, the community of Kearney has struggled grappling with problems stemming from the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center (YRTC). 

The most recent incident at the facility resulted in two staff members being transported to the hospital after being attacked with parts from a bed frame. Over 100 new frameless beds have been ordered to mitigate beds being used as weapons against staff in the future. 

“I was appalled,” said DHHS CEO, Dannette Smith. “All I can say right now is my staff is well and we are continuing to provide support.”

CEO Smith took the opportunity in this press conference to lay out her plan for addressing the problems at YRTC-Kearney. 

“In my career, I have always been committed to ensuring the safety of my staff, but most importantly the safety of the children and families that I serve,” Smith said. 

Current census, staffing levels, outdated practices and protocols, and a select few male youth with a history of criminogenic behavior were factors that CEO Smith says contribute to these incidents. 

“We will be more consistent, we will be more consistent, we will be more consistent,” Smith said. “We will trust, but we will verify the work that is happening out at YRTC-Kearney.”

Smith laid out the following eight point plan for reforming the facility:

– ­YRTC executive emanagement will be onsite 24 hours a day to provide additional support assistance

– DHHS will put in place a temporary, 30-day suspension of furloughs and off-site visits and limit on-site visits to parents, guardians and children of the youth in the facility

– Increased staffing at the Kearney facility by bringing workers from other state facilities 

– DHHS has requested that judges withhold committing juveniles to YRTC for 10 days to stabilize care

– Increased requirements for twice-daily leadership communication and accountability among all staff members. Smith will also receive a status report from the facility at 8 p.m. each night. 

– Expanding educational program to ensure the environment is conducive to the individuals YRTC serves. 

– Continue ongoing meetings with Buffalo County and the City of Kearney and collaborate in training staff in de-escalation techniques

– Transfer 6 high-acuity male youth to Lincoln facility 

Throughout this process, CEO Smith has ensured DHHS will maintain their commitment to the youth involved in the programs to help them receive the treatment and the skills needed to be successful adults and ultimately live better lives. 

In addition to staff of DHHS, Kearney Police Chief Bryan Waugh, Buffalo County Sheriff Neil Miller, City Council member Tami Moore, Buffalo County Commissioner Sherry Morrow, and State Senator John Lowe of Kearney were in attendance. 

“We are going to make YRTC better for the staff, for everyone,” said Senator Lowe. “We need a place for these young men and women to get the help they need.”

Lowe continued by placing blame upon himself and other senators from failing to pass laws that would assist YRTC staff members in doing their jobs. 

“I will do everything I possibly can to move the Legislature forward,” Lowe said.

Lowe vowed to bring YRTC to the top of the list for discussion, but does not have any plans for prioritizing YRTC assistance bills. 

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