Uta Halee blames closure on state
November 15th, 2011
Omaha, NE – After 60 years serving troubled teens in Omaha, the Uta Halee Girls Village announced it will be forced to close its doors next month.
Nestled in the hills of north Omaha, the Uta Halee Girls Village has provided a serene setting for troubled young kids since 1950. The center provides counseling and residential psychiatric treatment for girls with severe emotional and behavioral problems.
Leslie Byers brought her daughter to the facility several years ago because she said she had no other option. “When your child is cutting herself, when she’s throwing dishes all over the place, simply because you said to go to bed, when you’re afraid for your safety, and your other kids’ safety,” she said.
Byers said when her daughter was in psychiatric crisis, the only option was to call 911, because the family had run out of lifetime in-patient insurance benefits. “… have them manhandle her, handcuff her, take her to the emergency room, give her a tranquilizer, and a couple of hours later, bring her home, all in the name of treatment. That’s not treatment.”
The center blamed the closing, which is slated for Dec. 16, squarely on the state of Nebraska, saying the Department of Health and Human Services stopped referring kids for treatment at the facility in an effort to save money. Gary Kaplan, immediate past board chair, said DHHS has narrowly interpreted Medicaid rules that deny the center’s intensive level of treatment. “If the Governor and his team weren’t so effective at denying help to kids with traumas and mental illness and abuse, we would be staying open,” he said.
“But instead they’ve chosen to leave hundreds of our young people with serious needs in shelters and juvenile detention centers, inappropriate foster homes and out on the street.”
Gov. Dave Heineman was asked about the closing at a press conference Tuesday, and said he’s not ready to comment because he doesn’t have the details.
Kaplan said in the past, the center has stayed open, with the help of private funds, when state support dwindled. But the facility, which has 60 beds in total, is currently serving just 14 girls in its residential program. Uta Halee also runs several community-based programs serving girls and boys that will also close. But Kaplan said the all-girl program will be the greatest loss.
“A place where a girl who had been repeatedly forced to have sex with her coach, or her mom’s boyfriend, or her cousin, who is reacting to that with clinical depression, with taking drugs, with acting out, with joining gangs, could come here to an all-girl environment,” Kaplan said. “A place of healing with only girls around.”
Board members said the center is working with its current residents to find alternative treatment. Ninety employees at the center will also be laid off.
The closing comes amid state reforms to the child welfare system that have led to three providers canceling their contracts with the state, and an audit that cited DHHS for mishandling state contracts.
A spokeswoman for the Department, Kathie Osterman, said the changes in Medicaid rules were not about saving money, but about coming into compliance with federal regulations. She added providers were told several months ago the changes were coming.
But for parents like Leslie Byers, no matter the details, the closing simply means fewer choices for parents in crisis. Her voice cracking, Byers said, “I wanted my daughter to be safe, I wanted her to have a chance to graduate. I didn’t want her to have to be here, but I wanted all those things bad enough.”
“So don’t take that option away because I don’t know where she would be. I don’t know where our family would be.