New leader of Nebraska Health and Human Services has controversy in his past

By: - August 15, 2023 3:11 pm

(Courtesy of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services)

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include additional background about Steve Corsi’s previous employment and comments from Gov. Jim Pillen’s office.

LINCOLN — Gov. Jim Pillen has picked Dr. Steve Corsi, acting CEO of the Central Wyoming Counseling Center, as the next head of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Steve Corsi. (Courtesy of the Central Wyoming Counseling Center)

Pillen in a Tuesday announcement said Corsi will be the chief executive officer of DHHS beginning Sept. 11, bringing “a wealth of experience and leadership” from CEO and director roles across Wyoming, Missouri and California.

“In addition to his operational expertise, Steve has a strong servant focus when it comes to providing program services to those who need them,” Pillen said in the release. “I look forward to working with Steve as he brings new direction and impact to DHHS.”

Corsi served as director or CEO (sometimes both) at the Missouri Department of Social Services, Wyoming Department of Family Services, High Country Behavioral Health in Wyoming and the Cornerstone Behavioral Health Group in California.

“The opportunity to bring my experience in executive leadership to serve all Nebraskans is an honor,” Corsi said in a statement. “I am excited to hit the ground running by establishing, executing, and measuring a strategic vision for the Department.” 

Corsi’s salary will be $257,000, which is similar to former DHHS CEO Dannette Smith’s salary before her Aug. 4 resignation. Smith’s starting salary in 2019 was $220,000.

Corsi has been at the center of controversy

Corsi faced controversy during his time in Missouri for collecting paychecks from two state agencies. However, that was the result of an agreement with then-Gov. Eric Greitens to pay Corsi about $128,000 for leading the Department of Social Services department, the maximum pay allowed for that position. This was in addition to Corsi being paid close to $14,000 from a separate agency that Corsi worked closely with.

Some Democratic lawmakers in the Missouri Legislature took issue with the agreement, and Corsi agreed to stop accepting the second payment.

Laura Strimple, a spokesperson for Pillen, said Wednesday that Corsi’s compensation was the product of a “shared services agreement that was consistent with the law and with Corsi’s dual-agency service. His later departure was unrelated.

A separate controversy arose in Wyoming in 2016 over the Wyoming Boys’ School purchase of a restraint chair during Corsi’s tenure with the Wyoming Department of Family Services. 

Such high-back chairs have shoulder, lap, wrist and ankle straps and made international news at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp after they had been used in the torture and force-feeding of detainees.

According to a Gillette News Record report, Corsi said he was “unaware” the chair was purchased in 2016 and “wouldn’t have agreed with that.” 

A DFS public information officer was quoted as saying that the restraint chair “is only used after the resident is restrained for violent behaviors and demonstrates the inability to de-escalate after being put in a prone position,” and to avoid the possibility of respiratory distress.

Nebraska lawmaker vows to reject Corsi

Corsi received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from California Baptist University in psychology and counseling psychology, respectively, and later a psychology doctorate in clinical psychology from Alliant International University-San Diego.

California Baptist University, a private, Christian university located in Riverside, California, has strict policies on premarital sex and homosexual activity. The college has defended those positions as freedom of religion. Alliant International University is a private, for-profit university.

Corsi’s activity on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, also shows interactions with biblical text against LGBTQ people and questions about the validity of COVID-19 vaccinations and CDC guidance. Corsi’s online profile was privatized Tuesday evening, though screenshots of his interactions remain public.

“If you are an adult, and you believe you are the wrong sex and that you can change it, then you have a mental illness,” reads one April 22 meme that Corsi “liked.” “If you are a child, and you believe that you are the wrong sex, and that you can change it, then your mother has inflicted her mental illness on you.”

Strimple did not address Corsi’s  online activity but said Pillen was elected because of his “strong conservative values.”

“He [Pillen] has now appointed someone who also has a strong conservative track record of competence and experience in state health and social services to lead one of Nebraska’s most significant agencies,” Strimple said in an email.

Strimple said Pillen expects all public servants to treat others “with the utmost dignity and respect” and said Corsi meets the “high expectations” set by the governor for all cabinet members.

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, who was among those leading the fight this spring against Legislative Bill 574, which restricts gender-affirming care, pointed out the online activity.

Hunt, whose son is trans, noted that Corsi will need to be confirmed by the Legislature. Corsi “will be acting CEO until we reject him in 2024,” Hunt said on X.

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Zach Wendling
Zach Wendling

Zach rejoins the Nebraska Examiner after studying abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, following a yearlong Examiner internship. His coverage focus areas have included politics and government, health and well-being and higher education.