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Dr. David Peterson

Dr. David Peterson is the only podiatrist in the Crookston community. The new AHEC is designed to increase the number of doctors, nurses, and dentists in northwestern Minnesota.

U works to improve health care in northwestern Minnesota

Crookston chosen to host the state's fourth Area Health Education Center

Jan. 23, 2007

In the future, northwestern Minnesota may have more doctors, nurses, dentists and other health care professionals to treat patients in an area that has seen its health care workforce dwindle.

Last week, Crookston--home to the University of Minnesota, Crookston (UMC)--was chosen to host the state's fourth Area Health Education Center (AHEC), which will bring the power of University of Minnesota health care education system to the region.

AHECs are designed to help improve the accessibility and quality of health care by encouraging universities and educators to look beyond their institutions to develop partnerships that meet community health needs. Minnesota AHECs, which are funded by a blend of federal, state and University money, are already established in Hibbing (northeast), Willmar (southern) and Fergus Falls (central).

"Northwest Minnesota is facing significant workforce shortages in primary and specialty care medicine, dentistry and nursing," says Barbara Brandt, Minnesota AHEC program director and assistant vice president for education at the University's Academic Health Center. "The Northwest Minnesota AHEC will be a vital address these shortages."

Headquarters will be located at RiverView Health in Crookston, a city of 8,000 people about 25 miles east of the Red River and less than 100 miles from the Canadian border. The Northwest Minnesota AHEC will develop relationships between the University and health care facilities and education sites throughout the region to promote and support health care careers.

Debra Boardman, RiverView Health president and chief executive officer, says it is critical to have a program like AHEC to work with educational institutions, health care providers and communities to bring health care professionals back to the area.

Rural Minnesota to gain access to more health education programs through the U

Rural Minnesota needs not only doctors, nurses and dentists--which the new AHEC will help to prepare--but laboratory technologists, occupational therapists and other staff in fields known as the allied health professions. The University is working to expand access to education programs in these fields, too, thanks to the new Center for Allied Health Programs, approved last year and now in development.

"We look forward to bringing an AHEC to northwest Minnesota and to working collaboratively to promote health care as an important, viable employment opportunity," says Boardman.

Competition to host the new AHEC was stiff. The Crookston community drew on its linkage with the North Region Health Alliance and the Minnesota Rural Health Association, which relocated to Crookston from Mankato last summer. The new AHEC is the first in the state to be located in a city with a University of Minnesota campus, which will leverage AHEC's presence.

"We are extremely pleased," said UMC chancellor Charles Casey. "We know rural Minnesota, and we know the challenges. Together, we have the resources to work for solutions now and in the years ahead."

More than 10 years ago, UMC recognized the shortage of health care professionals in northwest Minnesota. In response, it established a bachelor of applied health--and offered it online. Today, UMC is the University's pioneer campus in developing and offering online degrees.

Only five states in the nation have no AHECs. Two of them--North and South Dakota--are on Minnesota's western border. This month, the North Dakota legislature introduced a bill to try to address urgent health care workforce needs, which the new AHEC in Crookston will help to meet.

University officials will immediately begin a national search for an executive director to lead the Northwest Minnesota AHEC.


"Central Area Health Education Center (AHEC) hires regional director," Fergus Falls, Minn., Jan. 23, 2007.