June 29, 2008

Federal Bill Bringing Money to Nebraska

By Joseph Morton, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

Jun. 29--WASHINGTON -- Millions of dollars in federal funds would flow to health and education projects in Nebraska and Iowa under a spending bill approved last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The so-called earmarked projects were released by Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, both members of the committee.

The largest of the $2.8 million in Nebraska earmarks would provide $800,000 to Tabitha Health Care Services for the construction of two new nursing homes in Lincoln.

The facilities will be "green houses," which are designed to provide a more homey feel than traditional facilities.

Tabitha is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The organization describes itself as Nebraska's "longest-serving home care and hospice agencies."

It already operates a green house facility in Lincoln that is home to nine senior citizens, said organization spokesman Jason Zelenda. Residents pay only slightly more than they would in a traditional facility, he said.

"There is a large living room with a fireplace. It's very open, has chandeliers, lots of woodwork, no fluorescent lighting, there are a ton of windows," he said. "It looks very similar to . . . a mansion almost."

Tabitha's chief operating officer, Christie Hinrichs, said the project represents an innovative model for nursing homes that she hopes will be used across the country in the future.

"The green house project is intended to revolutionize the way long-term care is delivered," Hinrichs said.

Nelson supports the project as a way of providing services in a setting that feels less institutional, said Jake Thompson, a spokesman for the senator.

The spending bill also includes $100,000 to help Creighton University build a new dental school.

The university was seeking $5 million, but the fact that only a portion of that request was included is not expected to impede the overall $65 million project, said Cindy Workman, a Creighton spokeswoman.

Other Nebraska earmarks in the bill:

--The University of Nebraska at Omaha would receive $500,000 to run an intensive three-week civics seminar for high school students and their teachers.

--Northeast Community College and the University of Nebraska Medical Center would receive a total of $700,000 to purchase equipment for a new College of Nursing facility in Norfolk.

--Boys Town would receive $500,000 for a project to improve care for children with behavioral and developmental problems.

--The Nebraska Hospital Association would receive $100,000 to support the Telehealth Network.

--The University of Nebraska at Kearney would receive $100,000 to pay for an online bachelor's degree program for early childhood educators.

The bill also includes nearly $4 million for earmarked projects in western Iowa.

Iowa Western Community College would receive $450,000 to help create eight simulation labs for nursing students.

The centerpiece of the simulation labs is a set of models of human beings wired to react in many ways like real patients. Of course, if students fail to save a simulated patient, it can just be rebooted.

Dan Kinney, Iowa Western president, said the new labs will improve instruction offered to students and save them from having to practice injections on each other.

The labs also are expected to double the number of nursing students the school can graduate every year to more than 120. The total cost of the project is about $22 million.

Other Iowa earmarks include $750,000 to the Loess Hills Area Education Agency for an early childhood education initiative and $200,000 to the Council Bluffs Community Health Center to upgrade facilities and equipment.


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