The Nebraska AHEC Program
Through the Rural Health Education Network (RHEN) Office, UNMC applied for and received federal funding to establish Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) in Nebraska. UNMC received its first AHEC funding in September 2001 the AHEC, is housed in the Department of Family Medicine within the College of Medicine under the direction of Dr. Mike Sitorius.
An Area Health Education Center (AHEC) is a cooperative venture between a medical school (and/or its sponsoring institution) and community centers in remote locations. The centers may be rural or urban but must be geographically removed from the actual medical center as well as all of its campuses. The medical center administers the program with a project director and staff while each community center maintains a center director, staff, and is governed by a local Board of Directors.
As of September 2006, there are five independent AHEC centers providing services in all 93 counties. There are four rural AHECs with offices located in Grand Island, Norfolk, Scottsbluff, and Beatrice. An urban AHEC center was established in Omaha which has changed the AHECs’ focus to include urban underserved programs in addition to the previous rural focus.
AHECs provide activities that focus on recruitment, retention and community health needs within their service areas. The Nebraska AHECs support many activities originally developed through UNMC’s RHEN Office to address the shortage of health professionals in Nebraska.
The RHEN Office and the Nebraska AHECs focus on the following areas:
- Health Career Promotion (kindergarten - college)
- Health Professions Development and Student Services
- Continuing Education
- Special Community Needs
The Division of State, Community and Public Health within the Bureau of Health Professions (BrHP) under the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) administers the program. AHEC funding has been available for nearly 30 years.
AHEC programs based in medical centers, such as UNMC, serve as the state program office and may receive funding in three-year cycles for up to twelve years. This is referred to as core or basic funding. A center is eligible for core/basic funding for up to six years with the peak funding cap generally in the fourth year. Core/basic funding per center ranges from $250,000 - $350,000 per year and is based on population, geographic size and programs being offered. Following the end of core/basic funding, states may be eligible to receive “model funding” that averages $75,000 - $100,000 per center per year.
Dollar for dollar match is required on an annual basis that must be met through cash contributions. Current RHEN funding provides a major portion of the match needs through state funds. Resources that are contributed by communities for health profession students on rotations, such as housing and meals, support a large portion of the required match.
Federal funding will vary according to program timelines and activities. Programs must re-apply for funding every three years. A minimum of 75% of the federal funding must be spent in the AHEC communities.
Following the six years of core funding the majority of the centers are able to sustain the center through a combination of local, state, and federal funds. On average, three sources are utilized to continue funding of a center. These funds include self-generated clinical income (25%), community based programs (25%), and other federal funds (50%). Community-based programs may include donations from local healthcare facilities, United Way, foundations, volunteers, or city funds. Other federal funds may include grants, special program funds such as child abuse prevention or senior citizen programs, Bioterrorism Education, low income assistance programs etc.
While Nebraska is eligible for core funding for up to twelve years, there will be no new sites added after the current 2005-2007 funding cycle. This is because of the requirement that states are not eligible to receive model funding during the time that any centers are still on core/basic funding.
Focus Areas of Nebraska AHEC Centers
The Central Nebraska AHEC was funded in September 2001. Its key focus areas include distance education, pre-professional development, Hispanic community interpreter training, and interdisciplinary education opportunities.
The Northern Nebraska AHEC site, based in Norfolk, was funded September 2002. Their focus areas include early health career recruitment activities, a major survey of health profession continuing education needs in their area, and working with the reservation and off reservation American Indian populations to increase health career opportunities in the high schools, tribal, community and state colleges. UNMC’s Family Medicine Rural Training Track (RTT) began placing medical residents in Norfolk in July 2003. The NNAHEC supports the development of this residency program.
The Nebraska Panhandle AHEC site was funded September 2004 and is based in Scottsbluff. Their focus areas include collaboration of services to overcome the vast geographical distance with sub-optimal transportation and telecommunications. The NP-AHEC is expanding upon existing collaborations adding partners to meet the regional health care education needs. These partnerships are working to expand telecommunication opportunities for health care education. The NP-AHEC coordinates area health education activities, assists in recruitment of students (with a focus on those from under-represented populations) into health care professions, and evaluates health care needs, demands, and existing services to identify deficiencies and opportunities.
Omaha AHEC was funded in September 2005. The OU-AHEC works to create a heightened awareness of the health professions among area young people with a particular emphasis on minority students. They also work with local health and community agencies to address and fill the health needs of the community. Their focus is serving the underserved through community health education and screening fairs.
- Medical Student Education
- Nebraska Area Health Education Centers (AHEC)