Social worker, human services veteran named to head Nebraska HHS

Social worker, human services veteran named to head Nebraska HHS
Dannette Smith

LINCOLN — A social worker with more than 25 years’ experience in human services leadership has been named to head Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Dannette Smith on Tuesday as his choice to be the chief executive officer of the state’s largest agency. He praised her as a “customer-oriented, results-driven leader.”

“Her focus on measurable results and experience with strategic planning will build on the great work the agency has been doing to deliver a higher level of service,” he said.

Ricketts chose Smith following a national search. She will start her Nebraska job on Feb. 25. Her salary will be $220,000. She replaces Courtney Phillips, who left to take a job in Texas.

Smith currently heads up the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services, where she oversees about 1,600 employees and a budget of more than $120 million a year. The agency oversees some 60 programs, including in behavioral health, developmental disability services, child welfare and other social services.

In her five years at Virginia Beach, she led several initiatives, including the integration of behavioral health and developmental services into the Department of Social Services and the development of an integrated health care system for children in the child welfare system.

She also created an online dashboard to measure the distribution and processing of food assistance and Medicaid benefits and worked with law enforcement on a new approach to behavioral health services in the community.

Smith previously directed the Seattle Department of Human Services and the Fulton County Department of Children and Family Services in Georgia, and was the division director of Youth and Family Services for the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services in North Carolina.

She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Eastern Michigan University and a master of social work degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

HHS encompasses five divisions — behavioral health, children and family services, developmental disabilities, Medicaid and long-term care, and public health — that touch the lives of nearly every Nebraskan. The agency has an annual budget of $3.6 billion, including both state and federal funds, and employs nearly 5,100 people.