LINCOLN — Nebraska health officials have set themselves a goal of reducing infant deaths and increasing the number of full-term births in the state during the coming year.

They also plan to focus on expanding access to opioid treatment, improving working conditions for child welfare staff, helping more troubled children stay in their homes, and building a fence around the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center-Kearney.

These are among 18 goals set out in the Department of Health and Human Services’ third annual business plan.

Gov. Pete Ricketts joined HHS Chief Executive Officer Courtney Phillips to unveil the plan Wednesday. They also touted the successes of the plan for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“We’ve made great improvement and are showing that in outcomes for the people we serve,” the governor said.

HHS completed 16 of the 20 goals set out for the year just ended and made progress on the rest, including completing 140 of the 145 specific steps within the broader goals.

Ricketts said the first two business plans have helped make the department more efficient, effective and customer-oriented. The goals fall into five key areas: integrating services, promoting independence, focusing on prevention, leveraging technology and increasing operating efficiencies.

Efforts will continue with the third plan, which includes 11 continuing goals and seven new initiatives.

Among the goals for the current fiscal year:

» Improving birth outcomes in Nebraska, especially among minority communities. The goal includes increasing breastfeeding rates, promoting safe sleeping practices, improving treatment of women at risk for preterm births, and identifying top causes of infant mortality in the state and in Douglas County.

» Improving quality within Heritage Health, the state’s Medicaid managed care system. The goal includes using data to measure the value of managed care and incorporating medical transportation within the services managed by the three private Heritage Health contractors.

» Helping families in poverty achieve stability and avoid problems that could land them in the child welfare system. The goal includes expanding a program that helps families on food assistance to find better jobs. The program so far has helped 35 people land better-paying, more stable work.

» Reducing turnover among child welfare staff. The goal includes deploying more flexible scheduling options, developing a career ladder for child welfare workers and expanding a stipend program for social work students who do practicums in child welfare.

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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