Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont called Tuesday for a legislative investigation to examine the conditions and practices at state-licensed facilities that house vulnerable people, including those with mental illness, and continue to operate after repeated violations.
Walz's action followed on the heels of the death in September of a woman who was housed at Life Quest in Palmer and the subsequent closure of the center in October.
An inspection by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services had identified violations at the center more than a month before the death, Walz said.
"We need to take care of our most vulnerable citizens," she said.
"I plan to introduce a legislative resolution to create an investigative committee to not only look at this case, but to examine why our state continues to rely on assisted-living facilities and mental health centers that segregate, congregate and, unfortunately, warehouse people with mental illness.
"Instead, we need to pursue strategies and practices that support best practices in the field," she said.
And that includes providing "supportive housing and the services people need to live as independently as possible in the community," Walz said.
The woman who died Sept. 3 at Life Quest suffered from multiple health issues, including mental illness, the senator said. She developed uncontrolled vomiting and diarrhea during the three days before her death, Walz said.
"I feel like this is a death that could have and should have been prevented," Walz said.
During the last four years, three state-licensed facilities have closed their doors because of issues of neglect, abuse and mismanagement, she said.
"This investigation will identify the problems and provide the oversight to ensure the department makes the necessary changes and to make certain we are in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act," Walz said.
Responding to Walz's statement, Courtney Phillips, chief executive officer of DHHS, said an investigative committee is unnecessary.
"The investigation we conducted resulted in the Life Quest facility in Palmer losing its license and DHHS worked proactively with numerous partners to help find housing for residents," she said.
"We are moving forward with an after-action review to determine any processes we can improve upon, as well as how to further collaborate with law enforcement and other partners in these kind of situations," Phillips said.