LINCOLN — Nebraska officials have launched a national search to replace the top administrator at the Beatrice State Developmental Center. Dan Howell’s resignation came after three years as chief executive of the long-troubled state institution.
The resignation took effect Wednesday, although he has not been at work since late July, according to Kathie Osterman, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Department officials offered little information about his departure, calling it a personnel matter.
However, in a July 26 email to employees, Jodi Fenner, the state developmental disabilities director, referred to “Dan’s recent absence.”
“Thank you for your support, and for respecting Mr. Howell’s privacy in this matter,” she said.
Osterman said she did not know whether Howell has another job lined up and said his resignation was not considered a retirement. He is in his early 50s.
Fenner praised the job that Howell and other facility employees did in turning around the century-old institution that provides care for some of Nebraska’s most vulnerable residents.
Howell, whose annual salary was $167,271, started at the Beatrice center in August 2009.
When he arrived, the center had lost its federal Medicaid funding because of continuing problems with abuse and quality of care, and it was operating under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice.
“All employees were instrumental in getting to where we are — no one person could have accomplished this alone,” Fenner said.
Now, the institution has been administratively separated into five smaller care facilities with individual licenses, and all five have been recertified to receive Medicaid funding again.
“We have developed strong leadership at all levels of the organization,” she said. “We’ve increased opportunities in the community for people who live there, increased medical and clinical staffing and support, changed our hiring and training processes, and implemented a strong quality improvement program.”
However, Howell’s tenure also saw five center staff members arrested for their involvement in repeated incidents of hitting, choking and pushing residents in one unit. Others were fired for failing to report the abuse.
The Beatrice center has about 135 residents with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities. Most also have physical disabilities or mental health problems.
Fenner notified residents’ parents, staff members and some state lawmakers of Howell’s departure.
Delvin Koch, the center’s chief operating officer, is serving as the interim chief executive officer while a search is conducted to fill the position permanently.
Fenner said she would continue to provide on-site weekly support for the administrative team.
Before coming to Nebraska, Howell ran the Anne Carlsen Center for Children in Jamestown, N.D., a private institution housing medically fragile or behaviorally challenging children.
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