The Department of Health and Human Services moved the 24 remaining residents at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Geneva to the center at Kearney, CEO Dannette Smith announced Monday.
They will be housed in a separate building from the boys on the Kearney campus, Smith said. Eight boys were moved to accommodate the 24 girls. Four of the girls that were previously moved from Geneva were still in a separate area.
Smith reiterated the department is committed to ensuring the youths in its custody are in a safe and healthy environment, and the department was unable to achieve that at the Geneva living units.
The Geneva treatment center reached a crisis point last week from both physical conditions at the center for female youths and allegations of a lack of programming, treatment and medical care.
Nebraska Inspector General for Child Welfare Julie Rogers and Jerall Morland of the state Ombudsman's office are also investigating conditions and allegations of inappropriate room confinement, overmedication of youth, inadequate management of prescribed mental health drugs and accusations of violations of the Prison Rape Elimination Act.
Rogers said in a letter to Smith she would like parents, attorneys, county attorneys and probation officers to be informed about what is happening with the young women. Other experts should also be consulted about safety and conditions of the living units, including public health, Medicaid and Department of Administrative Services officials and mold-removal experts.
Four state senators — Sara Howard, Patty Pansing Brooks, Steve Lathrop and Tom Brandt — visited the Geneva center Friday to inspect the facility and interview the remaining residents. The girls showed the senators their living quarters and told them they spend most of their time sitting around with no activities or outdoor access.
Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavannaugh said last week the deterioration of conditions at Geneva happened in the past nine months.
"This came to my attention Thursday," Cavanaugh said. "I take my role of oversight with the utmost seriousness. And now that I am aware of the situation, I guarantee that I will be vigilant in the rehabilitation of the YRTC-G."
Geneva is a state-run, campus-style correctional facility intended for girls and young women who haven't succeeded with less-restrictive options.
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Two of the living units had been closed by last week and four of 30 young women moved to Lincoln, then back to Geneva, then to Kearney. Two were discharged.
Moving all the residents to Kearney will allow HHS to refresh its program for the youths from a clinical and programmatic standpoint, Smith said, and allow the Department of Administrative Services, which has been in charge of building maintenance for two years, to assess needed repairs and upgrades in both the closed living units and the two that remained open.
Smith said she and others are still evaluating whether the girls will be moved back to Geneva after the building is rehabbed and programming reevaluated. There are challenges of staffing the rehabilitation and treatment center, which compromises the ability of the state to provide optimal programming and activities.
The acuity level of some of the young women with serious mental health issues can put more pressure on the center, she said.
An incident two weeks ago at the Geneva center in which a youth damaged the sprinkler system within one of the residential cottages left the building unsafe and uninhabitable, Smith said.
“The aftermath of this incident created a critical situation in the 24/7 facility that has also faced serious staffing challenges,” she said. “Some of the youth needed to move to an alternative location to help ensure their safety and well-being.”
HHS has been assessing how it serves the youth in its care, the condition of its facilities, and what changes may need to be made to further enhance safety, programming and outcomes, Smith said.
Staff from YRTC-Geneva accompanied the youth to Kearney, including the direct care team, case managers, teachers, mental health and food service staff.
All HHS 24-hour facilities, including the regional centers in Lincoln, Hastings and Norfolk, Beatrice State Developmental Center and Whitehall in Lincoln, sent two staff members to help with the transition.
“Our goal is a smooth transition to help the girls acclimate to their routine, which includes school, mental health support, structured activities and recreation,” Smith said. “We hope to enhance programming and treatment, and provide an environment that is safe, supportive, and gives youth the opportunity to thrive as they transition from the YRTCs into a successful adulthood.”