By TYLER ELLYSON, UNK Communications
LINCOLN — Calling this an opportunity to “change rural Nebraska forever,” University of Nebraska Kearney Chancellor Doug Kristensen and other witnesses voiced support Thursday for a project that would expand caregiving education of health at the UNK.
Speaking before the Legislative Appropriations Committee, Kristensen promoted Nebraska’s Rural Health Education Building project as a way to address urgent health worker shortages while strengthening communities across the state.
“The pandemic has had a major impact on all facets of rural healthcare providers. Clinics and hospitals can confirm the issues they are having hiring staff to provide care to residents of this state,” he told lawmakers. “These shortages limit the health care that we in rural Nebraska can access, and they have a significant impact on the ability of communities to attract new residents and businesses.”
LB721, which is allocating $60 million in U.S. federal bailout funds to the project, is a chance to provide the high-quality health care rural Nebraska desperately needs and deserves, Kristensen said. “Our goal today is to take unique federal funds and expand UNMC’s world-class capabilities in such a meaningful way that we can change rural Nebraska forever.”
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A collaboration between UNK and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the Rural Health Education Building would expand the state’s talent pool by expanding existing UNMC programs offered at Kearney and bringing new options to campus. from UNK, including medical nutrition, genetic counseling and respiratory care – all high-need areas of rural Nebraska.
For the first time, UNMC’s College of Medicine would train physicians in rural Nebraska, and a master’s degree in health administration would be added to complement UNK’s undergraduate curriculum. Discussions are also underway for the UNMC College of Pharmacy to offer a joint degree program with UNK, which will enhance its undergraduate curriculum to ensure future UNMC students are prepared for the highest quality for rural health services.
The project builds on an already successful partnership between UNK and UNMC. The two institutions opened a $19 million health science education complex on UNK’s West Campus in 2015, and that facility quickly filled to capacity. More than 300 students are currently pursuing studies in more than a dozen professional programs, including cardiovascular interventional technology, diagnostic medical sonography, magnetic resonance imaging, medical laboratory sciences, nursing, therapy, physiotherapy, medical assistant and x-ray.
About 85% of graduate construction students begin their careers in Nebraska.
“We know that students who have gone through UNMC programs at UNK stay in Nebraska, and most choose to live and practice in rural areas,” UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold said. at Thursday’s hearing. “Training health professionals close to home brings them closer to home, which improves access to health care in rural areas and contributes to the economic vitality of a community. Our current programs on the UNK campus, which opened more than five years ago, have been very successful in this regard. »
Located directly north of the Health Sciences Education Complex, the new Rural Health Education Building would complement this facility both aesthetically and programmatically, offering state-of-the-art technology, classrooms active learning, simulation and anatomy labs and a clinical space. Together, the buildings would serve as a hub for health education in rural Nebraska, supporting collaborative research that improves the lives of all residents and providing professional development, training and continuing education opportunities for existing health care workers. .
Regent student Noah Limbach, who plans to practice health care near his hometown of Kearney, also testified in support of the project. He is one of approximately 800 students currently enrolled in health science programs at UNK.
“Our students are turning to health care to improve their communities, and the pipeline that UNK has built in health care is admirable,” Limbach said. “However, there is a great need for additional resources so that we can expand our healthcare network in rural Nebraska. This project will provide the education, training, and culture needed to enable students like me to stay in rural Nebraska and help those who make our rural communities so special.
The rural health education building has an estimated cost of $85 million, including $25 million from private funds. It could be completed as early as 2025.
Meanwhile, UNK and UNMC are developing additional strategies to work with rural Nebraska communities to recruit and retain future healthcare workers.