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People’s Clinic to shut down

Mon., March 10, 2008

Nine months after it was rescued from the brink of closure, the People’s Clinic is closing for good.

Officials say they’re directing the clinic’s 1,500 student and low-income patients toward other sources of health care, and trying to establish relationships with other clinics to allow its nurse practitioners to continue treating patients.

The loss of a significant grant last year and continued difficulties attracting other grants were key reasons for the closure, along with the pending loss of the clinic’s facilities at the YWCA on West Broadway, which is slated to be sold.

“Many of the patients are sorry we’re closing because they liked the relationship with the clinic,” said Margaret Bruya, clinic director. “But they understand.”

Some worry that the loss of the clinic will be deeply felt in a town where more than 11 percent of residents lack health insurance, according to state statistics. The nurse-managed clinic opened in 1998, with a focus on providing basic care and mental health services for the poor.

Ralph DeCristoforo, coordinator of the Health for All project, said the People’s Clinic was particularly valuable for people who needed to get in quickly – which can be hard to do at the larger clinics.

“I see it as an adverse impact on the community right now,” said DeCristoforo, whose program works to find health care for people without insurance. “For the uninsured, who are lower-income and aren’t in the system, this is going to affect their ability to be seen in urgent situations.”

The clinic, run by Washington State University’s Intercollegiate College of Nursing, stopped taking new patients at the end of February, and will provide care for current patients until May 15.

Clinic officials are trying to contact all patients by mail or other means, and provide them with lists of other clinics, doctors or programs.

The goal is to move all patients into some other form of care, and eventually create a network of places throughout town where WSU nurse practitioners can treat patients.

“I don’t know if there are adequate services in Spokane,” said Patricia Butterfield, dean of the nursing college.

“We’re building those connections now, with the goal of really trying to make sure we’re part of the solution here.”

The closure should allow nurse practitioners to focus on health care, rather than clinic administration, WSU said in a news release announcing the change. The move was recommended by a committee of academics and community experts.

Clinic officials initially announced its closure last June, after losing a $400,000 grant that had provided 80 percent of its funding. WSU President Elson Floyd then announced he’d replace the funding so the clinic could remain open and investigate its options for the future.

“The People’s Clinic has performed an important service for many people in Spokane who need access to health care,” Floyd said in a statement. “It was important for us to do everything possible to see that the patients’ interests were protected and that transition plans were put into place this past year.”

The college is negotiating arrangements for student health care next academic year.

Nurse practitioners are RNs who go through a two- or three-year master’s degree program. They can provide basic medical care and write prescriptions, and their use is considered an efficient and effective way of providing health care.

Butterfield said WSU has about 125 students in its nurse practitioner programs and said it would continue to look for ways to engage those students in providing health care.


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