A critical issue for Southeast Nebraska is access to quality rural healthcare at an affordable cost – especially in the midst of a pandemic. As former president of the St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation Board in Nebraska City, I saw the many challenges that a Hospital Administrator must face on a daily basis to keep a rural hospital open.
We’re fortunate to have a number of great medical facilities in our five rural counties. We have 127 available beds between 7 facilities – CHI St. Mary’s in Nebraska City, Syracuse Area Health (SAH), Johnson County Hospital in Tecumseh, Nemaha County Hospital in Auburn, Pawnee County Memorial Hospital, Community Memorial Hospital in Humboldt and the Community Medical Center in Falls City. Telehealth services and rural health clinics help to expand access even more. But recruiting and retaining quality medical staff to serve in these facilities is a critical issue.
We are blessed to have 278 Registered Nurses (RN) in our five counties and 199 Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN). By 2025, Nebraska’s nursing shortage is expected to rise 34% that’s 5,436 additional nurses. I’m proud of the work that UNMC has done with their Rural Health Opportunities Program to recruit and educate high school students from rural Nebraska who will return to practice in rural areas of the state.
Also important is elder care and access to assisted living communities and nursing homes. Nursing homes are closing in Nebraska at an alarming rate – 31 have closed in the last 3 years mostly in rural areas. This impacts both seniors and their adult children. When a nursing home closes, good paying jobs that provide benefits are lost and sales for food, supplies and services for those facilities are lost. Our communities lose tax revenue and our loved ones must transfer to facilities far from their communities making life difficult for entire families.
Rural areas also struggle with women’s health providers – including OB/GYN services, prenatal care and availability of things like rape kits in the event of a sexual assault. The need for more mental health providers cuts across both genders. As your State Senator, I will be a strong ally of Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services Office of Rural Health and the Nebraska Rural Health Association.
No discussion of health care would be complete without mentioning health insurance. In Otoe County, 92.5% have health coverage, Nemaha is 93.4%, Johnson is 92.7%, Richardson is 92.6% and Pawnee is 86%. While we can celebrate that 90% of our friends and neighbors have health coverage, we must be ever vigilant to aid the 10% without coverage. The Heritage Health Adult (HHA) initiative is a critical tool in this endeavor.
As your next State Senator, I will continue to be a strong advocate for rural healthcare in Nebraska. To dialogue with me about this important issue or to learn more, visit: PalmtagForNebraska.com.