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Medical clinic reopens for needy

Thu., Oct. 2, 2008

Service in East Central neighborhood closed in February

The East Central medical clinic has reopened, bringing local care back to one of Spokane’s poorest neighborhoods.

“There was a cry out in the community, and we’re thankful we can make this right,” said Diane Jackson, executive director of the East Central Community Organization, or ECCO.

The clinic has just a couple of patient rooms in a makeshift second-floor office in the center’s building at East Fifth Avenue and South Stone Street. But the phones are ringing with return patients, and staffers are lining up appointments.

“That’s why we’re here,” said Heather Wallace, health services administrator for Bates Pharmacy, which now staffs the clinic. “It’s nice that we can step in and help people.”

The ECCO clinic had operated since 1978 as a collaboration between the community center and Deaconess Medical Center. The community center provided the space and upkeep, and the hospital provided staffing and supplies.

It was a service that “helped out people who had been kicked around the health system,” said nurse practitioner Karen Bichler, who worked at the clinic for years before it closed in February.

She added, “If we can treat people like they’re important instead of treating them like they’re just poor people, we can do good work.”

The collaboration with Deaconess soured last year over philosophical differences, Bichler said, declining to go into detail. She made a tough decision to resign, she said. Without her, the clinic couldn’t take patients and it suspended operations.

Bates stepped in and hired Bichler, enabling the clinic to reopen.

After raising $1 million to expand space to accommodate the ECCO clinic and two other heavily used organizations – Women with Infants and Children, and Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs – the East Central Community Organization is trying to raise another $600,000, which would allow the clinic to expand next year, Jackson said.

Deaconess spokeswoman Christine Varela said the hospital donated about $150,000 last fall.

The clinic’s reopening was a surprise to Deaconess officials, Varela said.

They’re hoping to discuss with Jackson the hospital’s potential role now that Bates has the staffing contract.

The clinic doesn’t make a profit.

Varela said Deaconess had considered its work providing discounted medical care to the East Central neighborhood as part of its charitable mission. Deaconess also runs a clinic in the West Central neighborhood.

Jackson said the Bates contract is good through 2009. She hopes Deaconess will remain a supporter.

“We found a solution with Bates and decided to keep the bird we had in our hand – at least through 2009,” Jackson said.

Deaconess, along with Valley Hospital and Medical Center, was officially sold Wednesday in a $156 million deal with Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Inc.

Bates Pharmacy, which has operated in Spokane for 70 years, has its own walk-in clinic in its drugstore on North Nevada Street.

It has been employee-owned for five years.

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