By Machaela Cavanaugh
The writer, is Omaha, is a state senator representing District 6.
Governor Ricketts must act quickly! Nebraska has until Tuesday to change course with TestNebraska.
On Monday, May 11, my colleagues and I sent a letter to Gov. Ricketts requesting he terminate the state’s contract with Nomi Health and affiliates and turn the TestNebraska program over to public health departments and local healthcare labs.
When asked about our request, the governor stated it was “ludicrous” and asserted that we didn’t want expanded testing across the state. The governor has abused the trust of the people of Nebraska, and it is absurd for the public to be expected to be satisfied with his flippant responses to a legitimate request from the oversight branch of the government. The disregard for public health with which he governs during this critical time is made even more evident in his lack of input from local experts in the plan to expand testing across Nebraska.
Nebraska is home to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, a world-renowned infection control and treatment, publicly funded medical research facility. The governor has not been held to account for why he went outside of Nebraska to spend Nebraska taxayer dollars before first turning to UNMC when seeking to expand COVID-19 testing in the state, nor did he consult with the state’s county public health officials to create a strategic plan around deploying expanded testing.
The governor said at the April 30 press conference that he vetted Nomi Health, but has never disclosed what vetting was done. Nomi Health CEO Mark Newman has publicly acknowledged that prior to mid-March he knew nothing about lab testing. By its own admission, Nomi Health has no knowledge of public health practice and little understanding of the Nebraska health care delivery system in general. Nebraskans do not have the luxury to wait for Nomi leadership to learn on the job.The financial relationship between Newman and Meds In Motion, which develops hydroxychloroquine (the initial version of the online assessment included a question about hydroxychloroquine, a drug that has shown little efficacy in treatment against COVID-19), casts further doubts about the stewardship of Nebraska taxpayer dollars and sensitive health and personal data being collected.
The governor stated that data collection has not been shared with local health departments due to the need to implement a system for sharing information. Again, if the governor had looked within our own state lines, he could have contracted the Nebraska Health Information Exchange (NEHII), a non-profit organization with a public/private governance model that includes the State of Nebraska to do this data collection. Nebraska’s Health and Human Services Department relies on NEHII now more then ever for up-to-date data related to COVID-19. Our state’s COVID-19 dashboard is informed by the data provided by NEHII.
Nebraska’s media has begun to report on the concerns of health care officials across the state. Nebraskans should be deeply concerned as to how the TestNebraska program has upended our collaborations with smaller health care providers across the state and diverted much needed state resources out of reach for those the most in need. Local hospitals and labs cannot provide testing because the state has diverted all testing resources to TestNebraska. Yet there is no transparency, accountability or data being shared from TestNebrask with local communities.
Nebraska’s leaders in health care delivery, including those at UNMC, should be leading the testing effort in close coordination with our state’s public health departments, entities that already have the infrastructure and expertise to do this critical work.
Time is running out and the governor has yet to respond to the concerns laid out in our letter sent to his office on Monday. The TestNebraska contract with Nomi Health must be terminated by Tuesday, and we should reinvest those dollars in Nebraska’s county public health labs and support our local health care providers in increasing their efforts to combat COVID-19 across the state.