News3 News Now Investigators


Despite tight budget, hospital in small town expands thanks to donations

While operating on a barely positive margin, Dundy County Hospital is expanding
Posted at 6:39 PM, Aug 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-27 17:17:09-04

The 3 News Now Investigative Team is delving into rural health care in Nebraska in a multi-part series. The series profiles rural critical care facilities, looks into the struggles they have, and their triumphs. Last week, we featured Lexington Regional Health Center.

Rural health care facilities are struggling to stay afloat, including Dundy County Hospital near the Colorado and Kansas borders.

The hospital is in Benkelman, with a population of less than 900 people. This year, it's operating just just over one percent in the black, said its CEO Rita Jones.

But it's also expanding.

A project costing $3.8 million is in the works, funded entirely by donations.

Local donations and support from the county also support the rest of the hospital's budget.

"You are being taken care of by your neighbors and friends when you are in the rural health care system," Jones said.

Nurses get experience in many areas of health care.

"They do it all. Its very stressful and very rewarding in the end," said Chief Nursing Officer Laken Vrbas. "People want to go to larger facilities. But here you get it all. You get to see babies, or people in their last minutes."

The nearest comparable facility is 38 miles to the north in Imperial.

In Nebraska, 29 of 71 rural hospitals are operating in the red, according to the Nebraska Rural Health Association.

Read more: Critical rural hospitals operate on thin margins across state

"Some days you just have to be happy that you are holding ground and that you are able to keep the services," Jones said. "It's wonderful when you can grow. But sometimes you have to be happy holding ground."