LINCOLN — The once-troubled Beatrice State Developmental Center could be released from special federal oversight sometime next summer, a state official said Monday.
The release would mark a major achievement for the century-old state institution.
It has been under close federal scrutiny since 2006 because of long-standing problems with abuse of residents and failure to meet care standards.
State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, chairman of a special legislative committee on developmental disabilities, expressed concern about whether the state has done enough to correct those problems.
“I don't see where we're a year away from compliance,” he said during a legislative hearing.
But Jodi Fenner, developmental disabilities director for the State Department of Health and Human Services, said U.S. Justice Department officials “seem to be happy” with the state's progress on meeting conditions of a legal settlement with the department.
She said the state has to sustain that progress for a year to be released from Justice Department oversight.
The Beatrice center fully regained federal Medicaid certification and funding last year, but the Justice Department has continued its separate monitoring.
The monitoring was part of the settlement agreement that the state reached in the summer of 2008. The agreement came after federal investigators concluded that conditions and practices at the Beatrice center violated residents' civil rights.
The center now cares for 126 people with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities. Most also have physical disabilities or mental health problems.
The center had 329 residents in December 2007.
The agreement called for Nebraska to do more to help people move out of the institution into community-based settings.
Fenner said the next visit from an independent expert hired to do the monitoring is set for the week of April 7 next year.
The independent expert had been making quarterly visits until May of this year, but federal officials said they would only do one visit during the 2013-14 year.
Under questioning by Lathrop, Fenner said overtime hours at the center have not improved much since last year, despite efforts at recruiting employees.
“We're certainly far better off than we were in 2007, but we're not where we want to be,” she said.
She said the center may have achieved the maximum outreach possible for employees.
Both Medicaid and Justice Department investigators cited the amount of employee overtime as a key factor in the facility's problems.
Lathrop also asked about the latest report from the independent expert, which focused on the care of former Beatrice center residents who are now living in communities across the state.
He said the report was critical of the lack of mental health and other medical services for those people and, in some cases, the quality of services they received in the community.
Fenner said those issues are part of living in rural parts of Nebraska, where health care professionals are in short supply and those available may not be qualified to deal with people with multiple disabilities.
To address those concerns, she said HHS has expanded its teams of experts who can consult with local providers and is offering training for community providers.