- Associated Press - Monday, March 31, 2014

Omaha World-Herald. March 30, 2014.

Nebraska steps forward on health care

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents is commendably focusing increased attention on meeting the health care needs of Nebraska’s minority, rural and underserved residents.

The regents have done this by giving the go-ahead to the University of Nebraska Medical Center to expand the work of its Center for Reducing Health Disparities.

This move can make a long-term difference by bolstering the impressive work across the state by a wide array of Nebraska institutions on the public health front.

Through medical screenings, health education and consultations, these organizations are addressing serious health issues including diabetes, heart disease, child health and obesity among Nebraska’s minority and rural residents.

To appreciate the importance of these efforts, take a look at some relevant health care statistics.

In 2012, the infant mortality rate for Nebraska’s white population was 4.6 per 1,000 births. But for African-American residents, the rate was 8.3. And for Nebraska’s Native Americans, it was 11.8. Just over 7 percent of white adults in Nebraska have been diagnosed with diabetes. The rate for Hispanics is 11.5 percent; for Native Americans, 11.3 percent; for African-Americans, 12 percent.

The diabetes mortality rate for Nebraska’s African-American population is “nearly three times the rate for the white population,” notes a report for the state Department of Health and Human Services, “while the rate for Native Americans is almost five times the white rate.”

As for rural residents, a look at a county-specific map from the Nebraska HHS shows that some of the state’s highest death rates from heart disease are found in rural counties in parts of northeast, central and south central Nebraska.

Public health departments, medical centers, the state HHS and nonprofits across Nebraska are working hard on these and other health care issues, and it’s good to see that UNMC’s College of Public Health - in operation only since 2007 but showing impressive energy and vision - will be stepping up its collaborations statewide.

Encouraging work is being done across Nebraska on this front. Here are three examples:

- The Community Action Partnership of Western Nebraska, an eight-county collaboration. The partnership helped 200 residents with high-risk diabetes. More than 275 Hispanic women attended an event on breast cancer awareness.

- East Central District Health Department, in Colfax and Platte Counties. Nearly 300 people were screened for cardiovascular disease, obesity and/or diabetes.

- Charles Drew Health Center, in north Omaha. During 2013, the center saw 1,694 patients with cardiovascular needs, 651 diabetic patients and 490 patients with asthma.

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