Legislature OKs UNK-UNMC Rural Health Complex funding

by Melissa Lee, University of Nebraska | April 08, 2022

Image with caption: The Health Science Education Complex on the campus of the University of Nebraska at Kearney

The Health Science Education Complex on the campus of the University of Nebraska at Kearney

State senators on Thursday gave final approval to legislation allocating Nebraska’s share of federal American Rescue Plan funds, including $60 million for the proposed University of Nebraska at Kearney-UNMC Rural Health Complex that would expand health care programs on the Kearney campus.

The bill, LB 1014, now moves to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ desk for consideration. The governor has until Wednesday to sign or line-item veto the package.

University of Nebraska System President Ted Carter thanked the numerous elected leaders who have been strong advocates for investing in expanded health care education and workforce development in rural Nebraska. Legislation for the Rural Health Complex was initially sponsored by Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha, with Sen. John Lowe of Kearney as a co-sponsor.

"The UNK-UNMC Rural Health Complex is an opportunity to change the trajectory for rural Nebraska for generations to come," Carter said. "We’re grateful to Senator Hilkemann for bringing this legislation forward; to Chairman Stinner, Vice Chairwoman Wishart and the Appropriations Committee for its support; and to the full Legislature for its approval today, particularly Senator Lowe for championing this critical investment in Kearney.

"UNK and UNMC have a proven record of working together to address our state’s needs. The Rural Health Complex is a bold new opportunity to expand access to health care, build the rural workforce, and improve the quality of life for all Nebraskans."

Building on the successful collaboration between UNK and UNMC that resulted in the Health Science Education Complex in Kearney, the new Rural Health Complex would significantly expand capacity for students to train at UNK and remain in rural Nebraska after graduation to practice health care. The complex aims to close the gap in rural Nebraskans’ access to quality health care caused by significant workforce shortages. Currently 14 Nebraska counties lack a primary care physician, for example, and demand is high for more nurses, dentists, allied health professionals and mental health professionals.

The Rural Health Complex was among a slate of proposals the University of Nebraska System brought to state leaders for recovery funding consideration. In February, Carter was joined by UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen, UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, student leaders and others in testifying before the Appropriations Committee in support of the Rural Health Complex and other proposals.

Of the $60 million provided in LB1014, $50 million will be allocated to construction of the facility and $10 million will be allocated to UNMC for one-time purchase of information technology infrastructure and equipment to support iEXCEL on the UNK campus. A companion bill introduced by Sen. Lowe, LB 792, would provide ongoing programmatic funding. That bill awaits final passage by the Legislature.