A perfect storm

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations | February 14, 2012

When Jeff Shelton, CEO at Harlan County Health System in Alma, Neb., looks at the health-care situation in central Nebraska, he sees dark clouds gather.

First, a significant number of highly qualified health-care professionals are near retirement and enough qualified replacements are not available to fill the void.

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The convergence of an aging population and a dwindling health care workforce have cause warning alarms to sound in rural Nebraska.
"We're going to be losing that level of knowledge that cannot simply be transferred from one individual to another," Shelton said.

The surge

Meanwhile, about 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age each day. Rural Nebraska, where the population skews older anyway, will be hit especially hard. And ...

"When you are reaching that retirement age, you start to consume more health-care resources," Shelton said.

In addition, we're living longer. So a larger number of us will consume more health-care resources, for a longer period of time.

A crack in the levee

Which brings us back to a rural health care workforce that won't have the numbers to keep up.

To use the cliche, it's a perfect storm.

"When I say a perfect storm," Shelton said, "it is a mixture of different things that are occurring that is brewing to create an almost unmanageable situation."

A chance to help

And so Shelton found himself saying all of this to members of the Nebraska Legislature's Appropriations Committee Feb. 2. He testified in support of LB 1055. As part of the "Building a Healthier Nebraska" initiative, the bill supports a proposed $19 million, 30,000-square-foot addition at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. It would include expansion of the Kearney-based UNMC nursing division and the addition of UNMC allied health professions programs on the UNK campus.

"The need to expand those programs is astronomical," Shelton said.

Reinforcements where they're needed

Beyond bolstered numbers in the pool of health professionals, more educational opportunities in Kearney would keep top rural Nebraska prospects where they're needed most.

"As a young person moves away from their rural community and gets further and further away from home, there is a 70 percent chance that we will not be able to recruit them back to their rural communities," Shelton said.

Sirens blare

And back in those communities, more older citizens continue to use more health-care resources for longer periods.

And Shelton and others face this without the professionals needed to care for these patients, when they need it most.

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