By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The city of Kearney is committing $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 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 roughly 100,000-square-foot facility will address critical health care workforce shortages in the state by expanding opportunities for students to study, train and eventually practice in central and western Nebraska.
The resolution approved by council members calls the building a “one-of-a-kind, rural health-focused learning environment concentrated on meeting Nebraska’s current and future rural health needs.”
“The growth of UNK and UNMC in our community has a tremendous economic impact, from construction to future job creation and expansion of two of our core pillars – education and health care,” Mayor Stan Clouse said.
“The success of rural health and workforce growth and retention in south-central Nebraska is dependent on creativity and partnerships,” Clouse added. “We are pleased to be able to do our part.”
When it’s fully operational, the Rural Health Education Building and existing Health Science Education Complex will support about 240 local jobs and have an annual economic impact estimated at $34.5 million.
Construction of the $85 million facility is expected to begin in September 2023, with a projected completion date of July 2025. Thanks to approval from the state Legislature, the project received $50 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding for capital construction, plus $10 million for iEXCEL technology startup costs. The Legislature also committed the necessary sustainable operational funds to support faculty and staff.
The University of Nebraska will raise the remaining $35 million needed to cover construction costs, with the city’s $5 million contribution counting toward this total. That pledge will be paid over 15 years, beginning in fiscal year 2025, using money from the city’s general fund and utility fund. Annual payments will be $330,000 for 14 years and $368,000 in the final year.
“This is a tremendous commitment and show of local support from the city of Kearney. We are hopeful it encourages additional private funding from across the state that is crucial in moving forward with construction,” said UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen.
“The Rural Health Education Building will impact Kearney significantly in several ways. The university and city have a long history of strong collaboration, and this is another example of how that 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 offers nursing and a variety of allied health profession training programs on the UNK campus. About 85% of the students who graduate from this building start their careers in Nebraska.
The new facility will grow this talent pipeline by expanding the existing UNMC programs offered in Kearney. It will also bring new programs to the UNK campus, including medicine, medical nutrition, genetic counseling and respiratory care – all high-need areas in rural Nebraska. A Master of Health Administration will be added to complement UNK’s undergraduate program, and discussion is 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 Science Education Complex, creating a hub for health education in rural Nebraska that serves current and future providers and supports 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 primary care spaces.
Targeted renovation is planned for the Health Science Education Complex, which will provide expanded anatomy, rehab and musculoskeletal labs.