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Episode #201 Public Health in a Post-Pandemic World, Interview with Nebraska DHHS CEO Dannette Smith



Meet CEO Dannette Smith, MSW


Dannette R. Smith was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Department of Health and Human Services for the state of Nebraska in February of 2019. She brings more than 25 years of executive leadership experience in large, complex organizations to the State. She spearheaded the development of the Department's fourth annual business plan, which supports Governor Pete Ricketts' strategic vision.


The plan outlines her four-pronged approach to leading the Department.

  • Create an integrated service delivery system.

  • Establish and enhance collaborative relationships.

  • Align DHHS teammates under our mission of Helping People Live Better Lives.

  • Enhance the Department's internal infrastructure to provide more effective, efficient, customer-focused services to Nebraskans.


CEO Smith seeks to be a catalyst for creating innovative programmatic and technological solutions in human service organizations. In addition to improving the overall operational structure of DHHS, she currently oversees several large-scale initiatives including: The Eastern Service Area (ESA) transition for case management services under the Division of Children and Family Services (CFS) Redesign of the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center (YRTC) System Development of an improved information technology infrastructure.


Prior to joining the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Ms. Smith was the Director of the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services. She has also worked in a leadership capacity in Seattle, WA, Atlanta, GA, Charlotte, NC, and Cook County, IL.


A true advocate of public and community service, Smith serves on the boards of the Healing Place of Hampton Roads, Norfolk, VA, and ATTACh (the Association for Training on Trauma and Attachment in Children), Minneapolis, MN. Smith holds a Bachelor's of Science in Psychology from Eastern Michigan University and a Master's of Social Work from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Under the auspices of the Child Welfare League of America, she participated in a child welfare leadership program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She also attended the County Administration Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


Her two daughters, whom she loves dearly, reside in North Carolina, and her dog, Mr. Bentley, enjoys traveling the country with her.


Listen to the Podcast Episode


Key Takeaways From This Episode


  • An introduction to our guest, CEO Dannette Smith.

  • The value of experience and preparation in leadership.

  • Why you have to be a good listener and you have to be willing to learn.

  • Why you should always look for opportunities to grow.

  • Why CEO Smith has taken on jobs that were too difficult for her.

  • How challenging opportunities prepare you to get to where you want to go.

  • The importance of serving from a place of passion.

  • Accessibility and communication and data as a medium through which to tell that story.

  • The different relationships that we will need to have with our local public health departments, our FQHCs and our health systems.

  • Positioning Nebraska as an opportunity to grow.

  • Why students entering public healthcare have a plethora of opportunities to look forward to.

  • Why policy as we know it today is going to drastically change post-pandemic.

  • Predictions for how service delivery will change going forwards.


CEO Smith's Career Advice to Public Health Students


1) While it is most unfortunate that we are living through a pandemic of this magnitude, students in this area of study have an opportunity to get hands on experience that will be invaluable to their life path.


2) Students should investigate possible careers in public health. Many had no idea what an epidemiologist or a disease investigator or contact tracer was and now they know. Talking to medical experts on the daily basis is amazing and makes one hopeful for the future career opportunities that these young people will have.


3) The ability to mine data and have people who create systems and use data to predict and evaluate medical occurrences and outcomes will be expanded and more necessary.


CEO Smith's Career Advice to Graduates and Professionals


1) Look for opportunities in areas that aren't as common. Rural settings, smaller cities and local health departments will have a number of opportunities because this pandemic has been taxing on so many who were nearing the end of their career.


2) Students need to be open to opportunities that are unique and maybe different from what they were maybe expecting.


3) If there is an opportunity to do so find somewhere to volunteer like an FQHC, rural clinic or local health department for experience.


Connect with CEO Smith


Dannette Smith, MSW on LinkedIn



Links Mentioned in This Episode


Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services


Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services on LinkedIn


Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services on Facebook


Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services on Instagram


Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services on Twitter

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