by Tyler Ellison
KEARNEY – The city of Kearney is pledging $5 million to a University of Nebraska project that will enhance health care education and training in the state.
City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday evening to support the construction of the new Rural Health Education Building on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus. A partnership between UNK and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the nearly 100,000-square-foot facility will address a critical health care workforce shortage in central and western Nebraska by expanding opportunities for students to study, train and ultimately practice in the state.
The proposal approved by council members calls the building a “one-of-a-kind, rural health-centered learning environment focused on meeting Nebraska’s current and future rural health needs.”
“The development of UNK and UNMC has tremendous economic impact in our community, from construction to future job creation and expansion of two of our core pillars – education and health care,” said Mayor Stan Claus.
“The success of rural health and workforce growth and retention in south-central Nebraska is dependent on creativity and partnerships,” Clauss said. “We’re pleased to be able to do our part.”
When fully operational, the Rural Health Education Building and existing Health Sciences Education Complex will support approximately 240 local jobs and have an estimated annual economic impact of $34.5 million.
Construction of the $85 million facility is expected to begin in September 2023, with an estimated completion date of July 2025. Thanks to approval from the state legislature, the project received $50 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to build capital, as well as $10 million for iEXCEL technology startup costs. The legislature also pledged permanent operating funds needed to support faculty and staff.
The University of Nebraska will raise the remaining $35 million needed to cover construction costs, with the city’s contribution of $5 million counting toward this total. That pledge would be paid back over 15 years, beginning in fiscal year 2025, using money from the city’s general fund and utility fund. The annual payment would be $330,000 for 14 years and $368,000 in the final year.
“This is a tremendous demonstration of commitment and local support from the city of Kearny. We hope it will encourage additional private funding from across the state that is critical in moving forward with construction,” said UNK Chancellor Doug Christensen.
“The Rural Health Education building will significantly impact Kearney in many ways. The university and the city have a long history of strong collaboration, and this is another example of how a partnership benefits the region.
The Rural Health Education Building strengthens the already successful collaboration between UNK and UNMC. In 2015, the institutions opened a $19 million health sciences education campus, which offers nursing and a variety of allied health professions training programs on the UNK campus. About 85% of students who graduate from this building begin their careers at Nebraska.
The new facility will enhance 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 respite care – all high-need areas in rural Nebraska. A Master of Health Administration will be added to complement UNK’s undergraduate program, and discussions are underway for the UNMC College of Pharmacy to offer a joint degree program with UNK.
The Rural Health Education Building will be located directly north of the Health Sciences Education Campus, creating a hub for health education in rural Nebraska that serves current and future providers and supports collaborative research projects. This will include state-of-the-art classrooms, comprehensive simulation and clinical skills laboratories for pre-clinical education and complex clinical scenarios and simulated primary care locations.
Targeted renovations are planned for the Health Sciences Education Complex, which will provide expanded anatomy, rehab and musculoskeletal labs.