Nebraska could save money and keep the state’s most troubled youth closer to home and their families, by creating a state-run adolescent psychiatric facility, new analysis has found.
The analysis was presented to the Legislative Assembly’s Special Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Oversight Committee on Friday, along with a second study looking at the cost of replacing problematic barracks-style housing at a Kearney facility for young delinquents.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services recommended completing both studies earlier this year, as part of a five-year strategic plan for its juvenile offender treatment centers. Larry Kahl, the department’s chief operating officer, told the committee that the HHS is not taking a position on the study’s recommendations.
Although the state has higher than expected tax revenues and over $ 1 billion from the latest federal coronavirus relief program, Governor Pete Ricketts has opposed new programs that will create ongoing costs to the state.
HHS currently operates a facility in Kearney for boys, one in Hastings for girls, and one in Lincoln for offenders with more serious behavioral and mental health issues, as well as programs in Lincoln for boys with a history of delinquency. sexual and, separately, with drug addiction. abuse issues.
The first analysis looked at the potential for starting an inpatient treatment center on the Lincoln Regional Center campus. The facility is said to be intended to treat adolescents who are now sent out of state for treatment.
Karen Chinn, a consultant who worked on the study, said young people in Nebraska are going to other states because the state’s private treatment programs will not accept them.
These young people tend to be adolescents with aggressive and violent behavior who have experienced trauma and have been placed outside the home from an early age. Most have serious mental health and addiction issues. Some have a history of sexual delinquency. Some have developmental disabilities.
She said Nebraska sent between 39 and 74 such young people to other states each year from 2015 to this year. About two-thirds were on juvenile probation, while the rest were in the child welfare system. They were sent as far as Tennessee and South Carolina and typically spent four to six months at these out-of-state facilities.
Chinn said the state paid $ 9.1 million for the care of these teens in 2019.
His analysis showed that the state could operate a 24-bed residential psychiatric treatment facility at an estimated cost of $ 3.8 million per year. The idea would be to have a âno rejection, no ejectionâ facility that could keep adolescents closer to home, where their families could participate in treatment.
The study estimated that such a facility could be built on the Lincoln State Psychiatric Hospital campus for $ 12.7 million.
However, Chinn told the committee that the state could serve the same young people by working to expand the capacity of private treatment programs to deal with more difficult young people. She pointed to Missouri, which treats similar teens in small regional facilities scattered around the state.
Architect Al Povondra presented the second study, which examined the building needs of the Kearney Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center. He said the campus had a problem with accommodation for residents, particularly in two buildings with barrack-style sleeping areas where young people have little privacy and might find themselves two beds away from someone from a rival gang.
âBasically you are storing children,â he said.
The study estimated the cost of replacing older housing units at around $ 13.2 million, which would create a pair of new housing units. Each new building would have 24 rooms, separated into two zones. One bedroom in each area would be large enough to accommodate two young people, if required.
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