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University of Nebraska President and Chancellors address rural healthcare shortages with new proposal

Posted at 7:36 PM, Oct 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-13 20:36:21-04

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — In Lincoln and Omaha, there are plenty of state-of-the-art health care options for residents. However, that is far from the case for rural Nebraska.

According to a 2020 report from UNMC, every county in Nebraska outside of Douglas and Lancaster are considered shortage areas for at least one type of primary health care.

“Well, there’s no doubt rural Nebraska is suffering for lack of medical professionals,” University of Nebraska President Ted Carter said. “Particularly in nursing, mental health, occupational therapists, physical therapists.”

“They’re lacking in all areas,” University of Nebraska-Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen said. “There’s 17 counties out there that do not have a doctor.”

Of the healthcare professionals that do work in these rural areas, many are aging and will be retiring soon.

President Carter and the four university chancellors have come up with a new idea to increase the number of healthcare workers in these rural areas.

They proposed to the Nebraska Legislature the building of a new Rural Health Complex at the University of Nebraska-Kearney campus.

President Carter asked for $60 million from the roughly billion-dollar American Rescue Grant the state received from the federal government for COVID-19 relief.

“This is once-in-a-lifetime money and we need to do it wisely. We don’t need to do it on little projects, we need to move the needle,” Kristensen said. “This will have a huge impact on rural Nebraska. It will also have a huge impact on the Nebraska Medical Center. So, as a university, nobody else in the country is doing it quite like this.”

The new complex would be built directly north of the Health Science Education Building that opened at UNK in 2015.

Out of all the students that have studied in healthcare at the facility, 85% have stayed in rural Nebraska.

“The history of UNK has taught us that when you bring great students to the rural part of Nebraska and put them on campus, they fall in love with the area,” President Carter said. “When they do their internships in rural Nebraska, they are very likely to stay in rural Nebraska.”

“Now we’re moving to a Health Science Education Complex on steroids,” Chancellor Kristensen said.

This would also give students at UNK the opportunity to study and train in different fields that currently are only available in Lincoln and Omaha.

“We see it as a great opportunity for our students, but we see it as an even better service to Nebraska and to the entire state,” Kristensen said.

“Then they’re not having to travel to Omaha or Lincoln to get their mammograms done because we will have trained technicians to provide that care in rural areas,” said UNMC Family Medicine Rural Training Track Program Director Dr. Aaron Lanik.

The concern if the healthcare need in rural areas isn’t addressed?

“What happens is that people will move. People will even further expedite the migration out of rural Nebraska, and that’s not good for the entire state. That’s a very difficult situation,” Kristensen said.

The new Rural Health Complex is one of a series of proposals the university made to the Nebraska Legislature. The proposals round up to about $195 million of the COVID-19 relief fund.

All of which focus on workforce development, health care, research, or innovation.