New paper looks at health care workforce shortage in rural communities

Small Towns
Contact(s)

Tim Mussack, senior policy associate, 402.687.2100, ext. 1032; or Teresa Hoffman, senior communications associate, teresah@cfra.org, 402.687.2100, ext. 1012

LYONS, NEBRASKA – Rural Nebraska is facing a health care workforce shortage, and projections show the trend will continue if it is not adequately addressed, according to a white paper released recently by the Center for Rural Affairs.

“A shortage of doctors, nurses, and specialty providers decrease access to care and are associated with higher rates of chronic disease,” said Tim Mussack, senior policy associate for the Center, noting every rural county in the state is designated a shortage area for at least one type of care provider and 14 counties have no primary care providers. “Innovative health care delivery, such as telehealth services, can provide some efficiencies but there is no substitute for an adequately-sized workforce. 

The paper “State Policy Options for Recruiting and Retaining Rural Health Care Providers in Nebraska,” authored by Mussack, examines the current workforce shortage in Nebraska’s rural health care system, reviews policy interventions implemented in other states, and makes recommendations for addressing this ongoing problem.

Mussack said the question of how to attract, educate, and retain a rural health care workforce has become a perennial one, with no easy answers and no silver bullet. However, Nebraska and other states have taken steps in the right direction, he said, such as granting full practice authority to advanced practice registered nurse-certified nurse practitioners, and providing a loan repayment program for physicians practicing in rural areas.

Additionally, a bill being considered by the Nebraska Legislature this session would increase the state's capacity to train and educate health care professionals, particularly outside of Omaha and Lincoln, and help rural communities attract the necessary workforce. 

Legislative Bill 721 seeks $60 million in State Recovery Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to expand the educational partnership between the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK). This money would build a new rural health education complex focusing on graduate level education, including 40 physicians completely at UNK.

“This is an investment that expands on an already successful partnership that has shown students want to study medicine in Kearney,” Mussack said. “A high percentage of these graduates choose to practice medicine in Nebraska, with many serving in rural communities.” 

For more information or to view “State Policy Options for Recruiting and Retaining Rural Health Care Providers in Nebraska,” visit cfra.org/publications.

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