‘Building a Healthier Nebraska’ represents a good investment for the stateFebruary 2012: ‘Building a Healthier Nebraska’ represents a good investment for the state The University of Nebraska has proposed an ambitious initiative to improve health care and quality of life in the state, ensure a strong health workforce in rural communities, and expand educational opportunities for young people.
The initiative, called Building a Healthier Nebraska, will contribute significantly to job creation and economic growth. And while most of its support will come from private donors, a commitment from the state now could ensure the success of initiative.
To recap, Building a Healthier Nebraska includes the following four projects:
- A building addition at the University of Nebraska at Kearney to allow for expansion of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Kearney nursing division and establishment of a new UNK-based allied health professions program. There is a significant demand for more nurses and allied health workers (like physician assistants and physical therapists) in rural Nebraska, and expanding educational opportunities in Kearney is key to meeting this need.
- Funds for a new Veterinary Diagnostic Center at the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. We must demonstrate progress in addressing deficiencies at the current center to continue to effectively serve Nebraska’s livestock industry.
- A cancer research tower at UNMC, part of a larger project that would greatly enhance our reputation in the treatment and research of a disease that impacts one out of every two Nebraskans. This project would have a tremendous economic impact for Omaha and Nebraska.
- A new UNMC College of Nursing division in Lincoln, which would allow us to expand enrollment to better address the state’s nursing shortage. The shortage is expected to reach 3,800 by 2020.
As Nebraska’s only public university, we have an obligation to work with policymakers to address such challenges. In fact, if the university weren’t bringing forth proposals to help solve some of the state’s pressing needs, the Governor and members of the Legislature could be expected to ask, “Why not?”
We understand that the commitment we are seeking from the state is a significant one, but there is some urgency to these projects. Every year that we wait to begin building new facilities puts us further behind in addressing critical workforce gaps, in allowing more students to pursue the career of their choice, in maintaining the state’s only accredited Veterinary Diagnostic Center, and in providing new hope to the thousands of Nebraskans battling cancer.
Moreover, while we expect that the cancer center will be supported by some $200 million in private funds, plus $120 million in debt assumed by The Nebraska Medical Center, the state’s commitment will go a long way in demonstrating the important involvement of state government. Certainly full funding for all four projects could be spread over several years – but we believe the state can and should make a commitment this legislative session.
It’s also important to note that Building a Healthier Nebraska is not in direct competition with other state priorities this year. We believe the state has the ability this year to make a strategic investment from the healthy cash reserve that will pay dividends for many years to come. If we don’t take this step now, I believe we will regret it in the future.
Senators Galen Hadley, Tom Hansen, John Nelson and Tony Fulton have taken the lead with this initiative and we are grateful for their support. We look forward to working with all legislators and the Governor in the weeks ahead to help ensure a high quality of life and strong economy for the people of Nebraska.