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One of the subjects people talk to me about all the time is healthcare in rural Nebraska. We face some serious challenges that we need to address in the next session of the legislature.
Historically, life in western Nebraska has always come with hardship. People here have an enduring toughness and a sense of honor. Most have to work hard for everything thing they have. My district has a lot of very small towns with close-knit farm and ranch families whose ancestors settled in Nebraska before we were a state. This area has a “do-it-yourself” attitude that generally doesn’t like asking for help.
In the past three years, forty-six long-term care facilities have closed in Nebraska, mostly in small rural towns. Seventy-five percent of Nebraska’s seventy-one rural hospitals utterly depend on Medicare or Medicaid funding to keep the doors open. Several counties in western Nebraska have the highest percentage in the state of people age 65 and older who are living alone.
The Nebraska department of health and human services reports Nebraska has nearly 3,000 vacancies in registered nurses (RNs), nearly 400 vacancies in advanced-practice RNs. In the Sandhills communities there is an acute shortage of licensed practical nurses (LPNs). This causes a much higher nurse-to-patient ratio than found in any other part of the state. Just because the healthcare facility is in a rural setting does not mean it is cheaper to operate. In fact, higher prevailing wages often must be offered to attract highly skilled workers to a small town.
As you can see this is a difficult problem that we are trying to address in the legislature. Last session we passed a number of bills that distributed millions in federal Covid relief funding. There are grants available to hire and train/retain staff, build and outfit telehealth facilities, student loan forgiveness for healthcare workers and for affordable housing projects.
For a summary of funding allocated to Nebraska’s state agencies, eligibility criteria, and guidance on how to apply please visit: https://www.nehca.org/wp-content/uploads/ARPA-Summary-09.01.22-ck.pdf
I am closely following the healthcare situation in my district, and will continue to look for solutions to keep our hospitals, emergency medical crews, clinics and long-term care facilities open and financially solvent.