Two Nebraska Universities Want to Expand Rural Healthcare with a New Health Sciences Complex

Oct. 7, 2021, 5 p.m. ·

Rendering of potential rural health complex concept next to the existing facility.
The proposed health complex, right, would be built directly north of the existing Health Science Education Complex on UNK’s campus. (Graphic courtesy UNK)

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Two of four schools in the University of Nebraska system hope to work together in new ways in an effort to grow rural health education.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center currently offers 19 pre-professional tracks at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, along with 12 professional programs.

In front of the Nebraska Legislature's Appropriations Committee this week, UNK chancellor Doug Kristensen proposed a new health sciences complex on the Kearney campus, which would cost approximately $85 million. He said UNK’s Health Sciences program is outgrowing its current building.

If approved, Kristensen said UNK would offer more health sciences programs accredited by the Medical Center, but there are details to iron out.

“Obviously, we’re going to need some budgets and things to increase,” he said. “We’re going to need to increase our undergraduate offerings, to get students ready for this.”

He said UNMC is on board with adding more programs, but has to accredit new offerings. If their plan is approved, construction would begin in 2025.

A quarter of primary care physicians in Nebraska are more than 60 years old, according to a 2020 study by the Medical Center. There are 14 counties in the state without a primary care physician, and 17 counties without a pharmacist.

According to Chancellor Kristensen, training for physician assistants, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, and occupational therapists is needed in rural Nebraska.

The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee will consider this, along with many other proposals, after they reconvene next January. Requests for American Rescue Plan funding were made by many organizations this week seeking a portion of the $1 billion in expected funding for the state.