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UNMC to guide University Health Center's future

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While students were away this summer, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced intent to transfer management of its University Health Center to the University of Nebraska Medical Center starting July 1.

But university officials now say that’s not the plan. Instead, UNMC will act as an adviser to help UNL design a long-term plan for the health center’s future.

“The initial announcement was UNMC is going to take over the health center,” said UHC Director Dr. James Guest. “What I’m hearing from our contact is that this is going to be a partnership. We’re going to define what that means.”

Since July, representatives from UNMC have toured the health center and met with its employees. These representatives will continue to have a presence at UNL this fall as they conduct a building and operations study, analyzing the health center’s structure, revenue and clinic operations. UNMC will also gauge opinions from students, faculty, staff, the UHC Student Advisory Board and campus leaders through open forums.

Upon completion of its study, UNMC will provide UNL Administration with recommendations for moving forward, likely some time next spring. UNL Administration expects a recommendation for a way to replace or renovate its 57-year-old health center to be part of that plan, said Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Christine Jackson.

“UNMC is taking a fresh look,” Jackson said. “They bring medical expertise to the table. UNMC obviously provides teaching and research just like UNL does, but they can provide better ways for operating our University Health Center.”

There’s still a possibility UNL will transfer management of the health center to UNMC in the future, Guest said. But as opposed to privatization, all management would remain within the university system.

“We would not be having to work with a non-academic, non-university entity,” Guest said. “All money stays within the system.”

UNL Administration attempted to privatize the health center to Bryan Health last year. Bryan would have constructed a new $14.4 million facility for the health center, however, the proposal was struck down in a 3-5 vote by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

Now is the perfect time for this partnership because of the rapid changes in the health care industry from the Affordable Care Act, Guest said, especially with the formation of different types of insurance and increased federal regulations.

Guest said he looks forward to what the partnership with UNMC will bring. One thing Guest and the officials at UNMC might bring next year is the installation of a telehealth program at the health center. Telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care and patient and professional health-related education, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.

“It’s very difficult in Lincoln to access an endocrinologist,” Guest said. “It takes weeks, if not months, to get an appointment.”

Telehealth would speed up that process, he said.

“(UNMC) Chancellor Gold has a good vision of what student health could be,” he said. “The staff is sitting in anticipation of what’s to occur.”

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