New north Omaha facility puts emphasis on community wellness

Community wellness is getting more emphasis from leaders in north Omaha with the opening of a new facility.
Published: Sep. 27, 2023 at 10:40 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Shanda Ross grew up at the Hilltops, just across 30th Street in what is now the Highlander neighborhood in North Omaha.

“If you know Omaha, you know the Hilltop projects sat across the street,” Ross said. “That’s exactly where I grew up, so the view that I had as a little girl was a lot different from this. And this view is very beautiful and very well deserved.”

The view she’s referring to is the view of the new Community Wellness Collaborative at 30th and Patrick, a joint effort of Nebraska Medicine and UNMC providing resources to build a healthier North Omaha future.

“I’ve been a nurse at Nebraska Medicine for 24 years, and in this current role that I sit in, I am proud to be a leader of this space that we’ve opened up to intentionally address health disparities and create career pathways in an innovative way,” Ross said.

Ross’ official title is Director of Engagement, Outreach, and Belonging. The words are also intentional.

“That last piece is important,” Ross said. “So I hope as people come in today, they automatically feel the vibe and feel that sense of belonging. That’s what this space is intended to do. While we’re here, we have ideas, but what we want to hear from is from the community.”

Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting event was a celebration, a chance to laud those who’ve built this place. It also provided an opportunity to applaud the community for their active partnership.

“One of the things that I did very early on was ask that question: ‘Is there a long-term commitment to the community? Are the resources going to be there? Is the personnel going to be there? Is the commitment going to be there?’ and they assured me of that,” Salem Baptist Church pastor Selwyn Q. Bachus said. “And I really feel as if they know that now is the time, this is the place, this is the opportunity.”

The CWC was built on a $500,000 budget and features conference rooms, A/V facilities, and a kitchen for sharing nutritional resources and is staffed with professionals offering health - and career support.

“We recognize that to conquer some of the health issues that we’re seeing in our nation, we need to be doing that collaboratively with our community members coming up with new ideas to tackle old problems,” said Heidi Keeler, one of the driving forces behind the collaborative. “This space is a joint effort with UNMC and Nebraska Medicine to create a space for those collaborations to happen, for faculty, for students, for staff and community members to come together and tackle those situations.”

The collaborative, they tell us, is neither clinic nor shelter. It’s a community hub.

“I want you to know that this space is going to be very special,” vice president for inclusion and diversity at Nebraska Medicine Ada Walker said. “It’s authentic, it speaks to the spirit of the community and it calls on the voices of people who have been on this land before and the people who will come into this land in the future.”

“We’re also considering this space as a way to expose the community to all the various health professions, careers there are, and all of the careers that support us,” Keeler said. “We’re hoping to inspire community members to join us in careers at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine and for us to be able to mentor them from a young age all the way through until they achieve their employment dreams.”

For Shanda Ross, the CWC shines a healthy hope on the Highlander neighborhood’s purpose-built community revitalization.

“What can we help our patients with? Can we help them ensure that they have a primary care doctor that they can go to versus utilizing the emergency room or immediate care clinic? Can we help with education and promotional classes to address, ‘How do I get my hemoglobin A1 C under control?’” Ross said.

Now that the CWC is a reality, all that’s left is for the community to realize that by walking through this door, they can change lives for generations to come.

“And how do we assure that when they walk in this door they feel included and that I’m coming into a space that I’m a part of the space and it’s very intentional work that we’re going to do with that,” Ross said. “What does it mean to have better health access to health care? What does it mean to have a career pathway built out for you?”

The CWC offers health resources, collaboration space, educational programming, and guidance for people interested in careers in health care.

This is all to maintain their goal of expanding healthcare access and promoting health equity and inclusivity in the field.