By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The City of Kearney is providing $5 million to a University of Nebraska project that will improve public health education and training in the state.
City council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to support the construction of the new rural health education building on the University of Nebraska’s Kearney campus. The 100,000-square-foot facility, a partnership between UNK and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, will address the state’s critical health care workforce shortage by expanding opportunities for students to study in central and western Nebraska, itself to train and eventually to practice.
The resolution, approved by council members, calls the building a “unique rural health-focused learning environment focused on meeting Nebraska’s current and future rural health needs.”
“The growth of UNK and UNMC in our community has tremendous economic impact, from construction to future job creation to expanding two of our core pillars – education and healthcare,” Mayor Stan Clouse said.
“The success of rural health and workforce growth and employee retention in south-central Nebraska depends on creativity and partnerships,” added Clouse. “We are pleased to be able to make our contribution.”
When fully operational, the Rural Health Education Building and existing Health Science Education Complex will support approximately 240 local jobs and have an estimated $34.5 million annual economic impact.
Construction on the $85 million facility is scheduled to begin in September 2023 with an estimated completion date of July 2025. Approval by the state Legislature earned the project $50 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act for the Capital construction plus $10 million for start-up costs of iEXCEL technology. Legislators have also pledged the necessary sustainable operating funds to support faculty and staff.
The University of Nebraska will provide the remaining $35 million needed to cover construction costs, with the city’s $5 million contribution toward that total. This pledge will be paid over 15 years beginning in fiscal year 2025 with monies from the city’s general fund and supply fund. Annual payments are $330,000 for 14 years and $368,000 for the final year.
“This is a tremendous commitment and a show of local support from the City of Kearney. We hope this will encourage additional private funding from across the state, which is critical to moving construction forward,” said UNC Chancellor Doug Kristensen.
“The Rural Health Education Building will have a significant impact on Kearney in a number of ways. The university and the city have a long history of strong working relationships and this is another example of how this partnership benefits the region.”
The Rural Health Education Building strengthens an already successful collaboration between UNK and UNMC. In 2015, the institutions opened the $19 million Health Science Education Complex, which educates nursing and a variety of allied health professions on the UNK campus. Approximately 85% of the students who graduate from this building begin their careers in Nebraska.
The new facility will expand this talent pipeline by expanding the existing UNMC programs offered at Kearney. It will also bring new programs to the UNK campus, including medicine, medical nutrition, genetic counseling and respiratory care – all areas of high need in rural Nebraska. A Master of Health Administration will be added to complement UNK’s undergraduate program and there is debate on whether the UNMC College of Pharmacy can offer a joint degree program with UNK.
The Rural Health Education Building will be located just north of the Health Science Education Complex, creating a center for health education in rural Nebraska that will serve current and future providers and support collaborative research projects. It will include state-of-the-art classrooms, extensive simulation and clinical skills laboratories for pre-clinical education and complex clinical scenarios, and simulated spaces for primary care.
A targeted renovation is planned for the Health Science Education Complex, which will feature expanded anatomy, rehabilitation and musculoskeletal labs.