Groundbreaking UNK-UNMC Partnership Ushers in New Era for Rural Health Care

Group photo doing a ceremonial groundbreaking for the rural health education building in Kearney, Nebraska.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the Rural Health Education Building took place on September 5, 2023.

$95 million project addresses the critical need for health care providers in Nebraska 

Demonstrating a unified commitment to closing the health care gap in rural communities, University of Nebraska leaders came together today to celebrate a project that will transform lives for generations. 

The University of Nebraska at Kearney and University of Nebraska Medical Center hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the new UNK-UNMC Rural Health Education Building, a cutting-edge facility that will grow the state’s rural health care workforce and help communities thrive. 

“Our goal is to harness UNMC’s world-class skills to transform rural Nebraska through a unique endeavor not seen elsewhere in the United States: educating health care workers and professionals in rural areas,” said UNK Chancellor Doug Kristensen. “The Rural Health Education Building will be a game-changer in this respect, serving a crucial role in filling shortages in all medical professions across Nebraska.  

“This partnership will have a significant lasting impact on the region, possibly unlike any Kearney has seen.” 

Located on the UNK campus, the Rural Health Education Building addresses a critical need for additional health care professionals in rural communities by allowing more students to study and train in central Nebraska. The $95 million facility will feature state-of-the-art classrooms, extensive simulation and clinical skills laboratories for pre-clinical education and complex clinical scenarios and simulated primary care spaces. 

Standing three stories tall and occupying 110,000 square feet, it will allow UNMC to expand the presence of its allied health and nursing programs in Kearney while launching new programs to train physicians, pharmacists and public health professionals here. 

Construction is set to begin later this month, with completion targeted for late 2025 and occupancy in early 2026. Students will be able to enroll in the newly expanded programs beginning in fall 2025, using existing UNK facilities until the new building opens. The Rural Health Education Building will train more than 300 students and be operated by UNMC. 

“Today is the beginning of a transformational change for Nebraska,” said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD. “This project – a public-private partnership to strengthen Nebraska’s rural health care workforce – will create many new opportunities for students who want to both pursue and practice their health careers in rural Nebraska.  

“By enabling the expansion of UNMC health science education programs at the UNK campus, it also marks a critical step toward increasing access to rural care and helping all our Nebraska communities thrive.” 

The project builds on a highly successful partnership between UNK and UNMC. The institutions opened a $19 million Health Science Education Complex on UNK’s west campus in 2015, and that facility quickly filled. More than 300 students are currently pursuing degrees there in professional programs such as cardiovascular interventional technology, diagnostic medical sonography, magnetic resonance imaging, medical laboratory science, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician assistant and radiography. 

In addition to their on-campus education, many of these students complete clinicals in the same communities they’ll serve after graduation. About 85% of the students who graduate from these programs start their careers in rural Nebraska. 

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 offer training in medicine, public health, pharmacy, allied health and nursing. In all, the new facility will allow for the doubling of the number of health care students in Kearney, bringing the total number to more than 600. 

When 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. 

“This facility represents a significant opportunity for rural Nebraska, aiming to reshape its future for generations,” said University of Nebraska President Ted Carter. “UNK and UNMC’s collaboration has consistently addressed state needs, and the new Rural Health Education Building is an ambitious step to enhance health care access, bolster the rural workforce and elevate the overall quality of life in Nebraska.” 

A public-private partnership, the project received support from numerous sources. The Nebraska Legislature approved legislation, signed by former Gov. Pete Ricketts, allocating $60 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding for capital construction and iEXCEL technology startup costs, plus sustainable operational funds to support faculty and staff.  

Most of the $35 million in philanthropic and local public funding has been raised. The City of Kearney committed $5 million, and $1.5 million will come from Central Community College. 

The William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation is serving as the lead donor to the project.  

“Public health is one of our foundation’s highest priorities for the support we provide rural Nebraska,” said John Scott, vice president of the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation. “We are pleased to be a part of this transformational collaborative effort.” 

Other benefactors include the Walter Scott Family Foundation, Peter Kiewit Foundation, Union Pacific Foundation, Pinnacle Bancorp and the Dinsdale Family, and, from Kearney, the Ron & Carol Cope Foundation, Tom and Mary Henning and Paul and Linda Younes. 

“I want to express my sincere gratitude to the philanthropic community for supporting this transformative project for Kearney and all of Nebraska,” said Brian F. Hastings, president and CEO of the University of Nebraska Foundation. “The UNK-UNMC Rural Health Education Building will allow more students to study and train in central Nebraska for medical and health careers across the entire state. It is so inspiring to see so many individuals and organizations investing to help grow the healthcare workforce for rural Nebraska.” 

Targeted renovation also is planned for the Health Science Education Complex, which will provide expanded anatomy, rehabilitation and musculoskeletal labs. 

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