Heineman says alleged Beatrice abuse not about overtime

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October 7th, 2011

Lincoln, NE – Gov. Heineman reacted to the reports of abuse at Beatrice State Developmental Center Friday by calling it “disgusting.” But when a state senator who chairs a legislative committee overseeing BSDC suggested the abuse was related to too much overtime, Heineman accused him of playing politics.

Gov. Dave Heineman accused Sen. Lathrop of "playing politics" with his comments that the alleged abuses at Beatrice were a problem of staffers working overtime. (Photo courtesy State of Nebraska)

At first glance, you might not see any connection between reaction to reports of abuse at the Beatrice State Developmental Center and the controversy over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. But at a news conference Friday morning, Gov. Dave Heineman made that connection. He did so in answer to a question about criticism from state Senator Steve Lathrop of Omaha. Lathrop told the Omaha World-Herald that BSDC appeared to be slipping back into a pattern of relying on forced overtime, adding, “It is a management issue. Ultimately it is a Health and Human Services issue, and it is the Governor’s job to oversee the agency.”

The governor was asked about that in Friday’s news conference. “Let me be very clear,” Heineman said, “overtime doesn’t have anything to do with this. Secondly, Sen. Lathrop’s playing political games. This is all about the Keystone XL pipeline. I called him out a few days ago: ‘Sen. Lathrop where do you stand on the pipeline? Are you for or against it? Are you for or against the route? Are you for or against the special session?’ I’ve yet to hear from him.”

Sen. Stave Lathrop of Omaha said the problems at BSDC are a "management issue" and the responsibility of the Governor to oversee. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Observers have suggested Lathrop and other Democrats are reluctant to take sides between labor union supporters, who support pipeline construction as a source of jobs, and environmentalists, who oppose it as a threat to the Ogallala Aquifer. Asked about the governor’s comments, Lathrop issued a statement saying “I am not getting into a tit for tat with the Governor on this. My focus is on providing answers to the families whose loved ones were abused at BSDC.”

But in a Friday afternoon hearing, he reiterated his criticism of overtime: “The outcomes get worse when the overtime goes up,” Lathrop said, “and that’s not just Steve Lathrop’s conclusion. I come to that conclusion because the experts have said that.”

Lathrop cited the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and the Department of Justice, whose scathing 2008 report on BSDC led to a loss of federal funding for the center. The state has since made steady progress toward regaining federal certification in stages.

Jodi Fenner, director of DHHS’ Division of Developmental Disabilities, said overtime has increased because of reorganization efforts, but it’s not as bad as it was before 2008. She said the state will continue to work on the issue.

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