Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative would improve health care, drive workforce development for the state

January 18, 2012

University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken today joined state senators and other university leaders to announce a four-part legislative proposal that would improve health care, drive workforce development and job creation, and create new opportunities for students in health fields across Nebraska.

The "Building a Healthier Nebraska" initiative seeks a $91 million investment from the state's cash reserve fund to support capital projects in Omaha, Lincoln and Kearney. The state funds would be leveraged with more than $300 million in additional support from private donors, patient revenues and other sources.

"Nebraska has an opportunity to make an investment now that will serve the people of the state well into the future," Milliken said. "Education and job creation are high priorities for Nebraska, and our proposal advances both. We are delighted that our partners in the Legislature are joining us to help build a stronger, more competitive Nebraska -- which is a central part of our mission as the state's only public university.

"This initiative is an excellent example of how the public, education and private sectors can work together for the betterment of the state."

Building a Healthier Nebraska includes four components:

  • A new University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Nursing facility in Lincoln. The new facility would replace the current outdated one in downtown Lincoln, which is forced to turn away 60 percent of qualified applicants each year because of space limitations. Expanding education opportunities in nursing is key to workforce development in Nebraska; the state's nursing shortage is projected to reach 3,800 by 2020, with rural areas especially hard-hit. The new $17 million facility would accommodate 314 students annually, compared to the current 250, and would allow faculty to expand their research activities.

A new nursing division in Lincoln has been the university's priority capital request in the Legislature for the last two biennia. The Legislature in 2008 approved $87,500 in planning money for the new facility.

"A new building is vital to the future growth of the college in the Lincoln area, and to continuing our commitment to easing the nursing shortage in Nebraska," said Juliann Sebastian, dean of the UNMC College of Nursing. "Not only will the proposed facility add state-of-the-art classrooms, learning technology, conference and seminar space, but it will allow us to educate more nurses at baccalaureate and graduate degree levels."

  • Support for a cancer research tower at UNMC. The research tower would position UNMC to become one of only about 40 institutions in the nation to earn a prestigious Comprehensive Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute. Comprehensive cancer centers are recognized for the depth and breadth of their research activities, professional and public education efforts, and success in advancing clinical and public health in the communities they serve. Other regional institutions, including the universities of Kansas and Oklahoma, are pursuing NCI designations with state support.

The 250,000-square-foot, 98-lab research tower would allow UNMC to add faculty, attract more grant funding, and locate all its cancer researchers in one facility, thereby increasing collaboration. UNMC would build on its core strengths including pancreatic, liver, colon, breast, ovarian, lung and head and neck cancers.

The Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative includes a $50 million request toward the $110 million cost of the cancer research tower, which is one part of a larger $370 million cancer center project at UNMC that includes an outpatient facility and an inpatient cancer treatment center that would be part of The Nebraska Medical Center. The additional facilities would be supported by private funds and clinical and hospital revenues. In all, the cancer center project is expected to generate 1,200 new jobs for the state by 2020.

"This kind of single-site facility is the future of cancer care and research," said Dr. Ken Cowan, director of the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center and an oncologist at The Nebraska Medical Center. "Very few academic medical centers are positioned this well geographically and programmatically. We can provide an all-encompassing cancer center with great access, and more importantly, outstanding care and expertise."

  • A $19 million, 30,000-square-foot addition to the Bruner Hall of Science at the University of Nebraska at Kearney that would provide space for health sciences education programs, including expansion of the Kearney-based UNMC nursing division and the addition of UNMC allied health professions programs on the UNK campus. Nearly 50 percent of qualified applicants are turned away from the nursing division at UNK; the patient care lab also is located away from classrooms and is significantly outdated, and there is no space for faculty research. An expanded division would position annual enrollment to grow by 40 from the current 124, which would help address the critical shortage of nurses and nurse educators and allow more students to pursue the career of their choice.

"The opportunity to expand our programs at the UNMC College of Nursing Kearney division will help us educate more students in rural areas and focus especially on primary care and health needs in rural Nebraska," Sebastian said.

The allied health professions program would be a collaboration between UNK and UNMC and would train students in the professions of clinical laboratory science, diagnostic medical sonography, physician assistant, physical therapy and radiography. The School of Allied Health Professions on the UNMC campus currently is able to accept only 25 percent of applicants; the UNK-based program would serve about 46 students when fully implemented. There is a high workforce demand in Nebraska for allied health workers, especially in rural areas: 13 Nebraska counties have no medical radiographer, 24 counties have no physician assistant and 25 counties have no physical therapist. Further adding to the demand, the population of Nebraskans over age 65 is projected to increase 62 percent by 2030.

"Our experience has demonstrated that if students interested in rural practice are provided opportunities to obtain their education in rural communities, they have a greater likelihood of returning to those communities to practice after graduation," said Kyle Meyer, senior associate dean of the School of Allied Health Professions.

  • $5 million to plan and design a new Veterinary Diagnostic Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The existing center was temporarily placed on provisional accreditation in 2007 by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, Inc. and is now in danger of being placed on provisional accreditation again because of shortcomings including obsolete infrastructure, overcrowding and poor ventilation. Planning funds would allow the university to demonstrate progress in correcting the deficiencies, while failure to make any progress likely would lead to loss of accreditation for the center.

Loss of accreditation would significantly impact Nebraska veterinarians and livestock producers who rely on the center for accurate, timely test results and information -- particularly during an animal health emergency. Nebraska also could lose out on state and federal funding for regulatory and disease surveillance programs, and may struggle to recruit and retain excellent faculty and staff for the center and for IANR's professional program in veterinary medicine.

Nebraska is a leading beef state, and having adequate facilities is deemed essential by industry leaders, including the Ag Builders of Nebraska, Nebraska Veterinary Association, Nebraska Cattlemen and the Nebraska Farm Bureau -- all of which support a new Veterinary Diagnostic Center. Furthermore, because the center has diagnostic capabilities for diseases like West Nile Virus that can be found in both animals and humans, a high-quality center is important for the health of the people of Nebraska as well as its livestock and companion animals. David Hardin, director of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science at UNL, pointed out that there are more than 800 such diseases.

"The Veterinary Diagnostic Center also helps preserve the health of Nebraska's economy, because the livestock industry is so important to Nebraska," Hardin said. "In 2010, the value of animal agriculture products in Nebraska was $8.4 billion. Even a 1 percent profit reduction caused by animal disease in Nebraska has an $84 million effect."

Leadership of the Building a Healthier Nebraska legislative package is being provided by Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney. Hadley also is introducing legislation for the Kearney project.

"We are very fortunate to be in a position to invest in programs that will build the healthcare workforce, expand our reputation in cancer research and allow more students to pursue the career they desire," Sen. Hadley said. "A strong healthcare workforce is especially critical to the survival of smaller communities."

Legislation for the Lincoln nursing, cancer and veterinary diagnostics projects will be introduced by Sens. Tony Fulton, John Nelson and Tom Hansen, respectively.

NU Board of Regents Chairman Bob Whitehouse said, "The Building a Healthier Nebraska proposal is aligned with some of the Board of Regents' highest priorities: providing quality academic opportunities for our students, achieving excellence in research and helping to build a talented workforce for Nebraska. I’m excited about the potential this proposal has to create a healthier, more economically competitive Nebraska."

More information about the Building a Healthier Nebraska initiative can be found at

Media Contact:
Melissa Lee
Director of Communications,
University of Nebraska