Nearly 3,000 students and other low-income clients are scrambling to find new health care after learning the surprise loss of a federal grant will force the Spokane People’s Clinics to close.
A dozen staff members will lose their jobs at the four clinics operated by the Washington State University Intercollegiate College of Nursing.
Organizers learned last week that they didn’t receive a nearly $400,000-a-year grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration that supplied 80 percent of the budget for the 10-year-old community project.
“It’s a huge loss,” said Anne Hirsch, interim dean for the nursing school. “It’s a huge loss for the community, for the patients and for the staff.”
Sites at the YWCA, Havermale Alternative High School, Spokane Community College and People’s Clinic West, which serves Spokane Falls Community College, have stopped accepting new patients. The four clinics will close completely by July 31.
Patients will be able to transfer their medical records and care to five area clinics that have agreed to absorb the clients, Hirsch said. Some staff members may be reassigned to other posts at WSU as dictated by contracts, but none will be retained by the WSU clinic.
The abrupt closure was triggered by the news last week that the center had not received a new HRSA grant aimed at nursing education and retention.
For five years, the WSU program has received $345,552 a year through the Basic Nurse Education program, according to HRSA records.
The WSU program’s annual budget is about $500,000 a year, Hirsch said.
The program received high marks in a recent review, Hirsch said. That encouraged WSU staffers to apply for a new five-year HRSA grant instead of simply asking to extend the previous grant for three years.
“We really thought we had a good chance,” she said.
News of the closure alarmed patients such as Michael Sumner, 55, who was treated Monday for a bad back and a pit bull bite.
Sumner has good insurance through his work at Spokane Galvanizing, but medical bills had stacked up at his regular clinic.
He was waiting to pay them off when he broke up a dog fight and wound up with nasty-looking puncture wounds that left his left arm red and swollen.
His girlfriend, Christy Neumann, said she spent five hours trying to find someone who would see him.
“These people got him right in,” she said.
“They’re super people, man,” Sumner said.
Easy access and affordable service were the goals of the People’s Clinic when it opened in 1998, said Dorothy Detlor, former dean of the WSU nursing school.
It gradually expanded from care primarily for uninsured and low-income families to include students and those with insurance.
When the area community colleges are in session, the clinics serve about 5,500 people, but only about 3,000 are full-time, year-round clients.
In addition to providing access to care, the clinics provided training for fledgling health professionals and ongoing practice for WSU faculty, many of whom volunteer at the programs.
“I know the staff are quite distressed,” Detlor said. “It clearly fit with the mission of the college.”
Patients will be notified of the closure by mail within a week, Hirsch said.