In Omaha, Kearney programs are trying to address rural health shortages

OMAHA, Neb. (Press release) – University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) A 2022 report by health workers shows that the number of nurses in Nebraska has grown significantly and the number of pharmacists has increased slightly since 2020. these positive developments in rural areas of the state do not yet have the necessary health care professionals, and threaten to increase the current shortage of health workers in many disciplines.

This and some of the key findings of the study are reflected in the report “Nebraska Healthcare Worker Status: A 2022 Update.”

“When health professionals work in rural areas, they help provide quality health care as close to home as possible. But they also create economic sustainability and vitality in the communities in which they live, ”said Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, Chancellor of the United Nations. “The need has never been clearer: we need to increase access to the Nebraska rural health care pipeline to improve the quality of life for all of our communities, support economic sustainability, and strengthen the number of health care professionals in the coming decades.”

Research commissioned and funded by the Office of Rural Health Initiatives and the Nebraska Area Health Education Center Program (AHEC) has used the latest data from the UNMC Health Professions Monitoring Service and the state of Nebraska. The report acknowledges that the pandemic has had a continuing impact on health care workers and that the shortage has increased since the data were collected.

Research has shown that roadmaps are important in proactively addressing current and expected shortcomings in rural areas and underserved communities, and is a proven strategy to increase the likelihood of hiring and training students in rural and underserved areas and training as close to these communities as possible. they will return to these areas in practice.

Andy Craig, MD, a family medicine practitioner in Minden, Nebraska and a graduate of UNMC’s ​​KHOP road program, said it is important to identify and target students who want to participate in rural health. “Students who want to grow up in the fields and stay in the countryside,” he said.

He noted the efforts to expand medical education at the University of Nebraska on the Kearney campus as an important step in addressing rural health workers and access problems.

Pathway programs have helped Nebraska, said Nicole Carritt, director of the UNMC Office for Rural Health Initiatives.

“Nearly 60 percent of the UNMC’s ​​Rural Health Opportunities Program (RHOP) and Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP) are practicing in more than 60 percent of rural Nebraska,” Carritt said.

Recent funding from the Nebraska Legislature, including funding for the Healthier Rural Nebraska initiative, a project that will expand the UNMC health care program at the University of Nebraska in Kearney, enhances these rural education opportunities.

However, challenges remain. One of the main areas of concern identified in the report is the aging of health workers in Nebraska. Retirement of Nebraska dentists (26.9%), licensed practical nurses (20.6%), podiatrists (20%), doctors (19.4%), optometrists (18.6%) and registered nurses (17.2%) they are the same age as before. A group aged 61 or over and at risk for leaving the work group for the next five to 10 years may be at risk. With the effects of the pandemic on the number of employees that have not yet been studied, the need for innovation to promote rural health workers has increased.

“The number of dental health professionals has been declining since 2019,” he said. “Thirteen of the 93 counties in Nebraska do not have a primary care physician, and 16 counties do not have a pharmacist.”

Based on these findings, the report’s recommendations included improving existing pipeline programs and educational initiatives.

“We need to encourage people in rural areas and sparsely populated areas to become health professionals and work in health care in those communities, especially in health professions that are severely deficient,” Carritt said. “With the latest support from the legislature, the UNMC is positioning itself to continue to address these challenges.

“While this report provides important insights into the current numbers and growth and loss of health care professionals over time, we are now beginning additional analyzes to better define the specific challenges and barriers associated with hiring and retaining health care providers in rural areas. We understand health care. The landscape of support and rural communities has changed dramatically in recent years and specific recommendations are needed to build rural health workers in Nebraska. “

The report looked at 20 primary care professions in health care, from doctors and medical assistants to nursing, dental and health professionals.

It also analyzed the sex, age, race, and ethnicity of each health care professional, and measured the number and rate of health care professionals per 100,000 population by region.

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