WAYNE - The Northeast Nebraska Public Health Department is growing.

"They originally started with two employees," says the current Health Director for NNPHD Julie Rother. "I think I was employee number four."

The department has been housed in its current building on Pearl St. in Wayne since 2011, and in the 12 years since has increased its program offerings - adding a registered dental hygienist, starting community health coalitions to address mental health, access to health, and ongoing wellness.

"It's fun to see it grow," Rother says. "There's a lot of need for addressing health and healthcare in the area. That's what we're here for."

But Rother says the NNPHD has gotten to a point where it has outgrown its current space.

"We've really had to be creative in how we have our team working together and functioning," Rother says.

Staff members sit in cubicles erected in what used to be a conference room. The on-staff dental hygienist uses a makeshift office space just inches away from storage cabinets.

Rother says her staff has done a great job making due, but they need more.

"If you really want a collaborative team and you want to get creative and have a lot of brainstorming and share a lot of ideas on how to do things creatively and efficiently then you need to have a space to come together," Rother said.

All the growth and new programming at the NNPHD have helped fill a lot of needs for their four-county coverage area. Now, the health department is turning to those counties to fill a need of their own: money.

Rother says they're looking to add about 4,000 square feet of space, potentially in a neighboring building on Pearl St. That's going to cost well over $1 million. Rother says funding mechanisms exist for the expansion thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act.

"ARPA funding has come to states and counties, and the priority for ARPA funding is public health," Rother says. "This is a prime opportunity to really strengthen our infrastructure here locally."

The NNPHD has secured $550,000 in ARPA funds from the state along with a $50,000 grant from the USDA and $150,000 in general fund dollars from the state budget. They've also received financial pledges for ARPA funding from Wayne and Cedar Counties.

Department officials will next be speaking with leaders in Dixon and Thurston counties next month in the hope of securing more ARPA funds.

"There are a lot of needs out there related to public health," Rother says. "We hope that we're part of that consideration."