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Cedar County approves funds for health department project

HARTINGTON – Cedar County has decided to help the Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department as it continues to grow and prosper.

The board of commissioners on April 11 approved $125,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to go toward the approximately $1.4 million NNPHD building expansion project in Wayne.

The department, established in 2002, serves Cedar, Dixon, Thurston and Wayne counties.

Julie Rother, who has been NNPHD’s health director for nearly seven years, presented the department’s project to Cedar County and requested the funding.

“I need to let you know that we could really use your help,” she said. “Because of our growth, we’re outgrowing our current facility.”

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners decided on April 4 to approve $125,000 in ARPA funds for the project, provided Cedar and Dixon counties also each contribute the same amount of money.

Rother presented the project to the Dixon County Board of Supervisors later in the day on April 11, but its members have chosen to wait until their May 9 meeting to make a decision.

She noted she has not yet presented the project to the Thurston County Board of Supervisors.

Rother added Thurston County Supervisor Glen Meyer of Pender, who is a member of NNPHD’s board of health, has told her several times the county does not have the money to help support the project.

“Thurston County is part of the interlocal agreement,” she said. “They have made their lack of ability to support this very well-known.”

Rother shared other possible funding options for the project that include: - $550,000 from state ARPA funds, which have been approved.

- A $50,000 USDA grant for the project as well as fixed interest loans.

- NNPHD planning to contribute $50,000 annually for three years.

- The department pursuing funds from area foundations to help offset costs once the project is underway.

NNPHD currently has 21 employees – with seven working remotely from their homes – and three vacant positions, with its most recent budget at more than $3 million.

“We’re bringing a lot of revenue to the area and a lot of services to the area,” Rother said. “That’s what we want to see. We want to see that people have the opportunity to be healthier.”

She noted the department started 21 years ago with two employees and a budget of just under $170,000.

“It’s been fun to see it grow,” Rother said. “It’s what we wanted to happen. We wanted to be able to provide more services and offer more to people.”

The department’s current 4,700 square-foot building at 215 N. Pearl St. in Wayne allows for 10 workstations in its 4,700-square-foot footprint.

Rother noted some of the space is shared by employees who either stagger their office time or work part time, re-emphasizing NNPHD has outgrown its current location.

“We had to get pretty creative in how we share space,” she said.

The department estimated 8,000 square feet is needed for: - Employee offices. - A reception area. - A conference room. - An information technology room. - A medical supply room. - A wellness and break room. - Clinic space for oral health and immunization services.

- Storage space for supplies and personal protective equipment.

- Bathrooms. - A garage. NNPHD estimated an additional 4,000 square feet is necessary to accommodate its list of needs.

“We could add nine more offices,” Rother said. “We could add a large room for either meetings or for training. It could be versatile .”