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Sun., June 20, 2010

Editorial: Med school opportunity needs help of hospitals

Now that a national consultant has rendered an evaluation of Spokane’s future as a medical school site, the possibilities are exhilarating.

Spokane’s Riverpoint campus – where a full four-year medical school is envisioned under the 30-year-old, multistate program known as WWAMI – will become the “new model” for academic health science programs, predicted Paul Umbach, co-founder of Pittsburgh-based Tripp Umbach.

More and better jobs. Research and spinoff industry. Improved health care for the region. All are part of the dazzling potential foreseen for a development that would include not only the medical school but other complementary activities performed by Spokane’s universities, hospitals and business community.

Repeatedly, the report stresses the importance of partnerships and integration of functions.

Coincidentally, a few days after Umbach delivered his firm’s findings, Scott Armstrong, the president and CEO of Group Health Cooperative, was in Spokane, preaching the merits of efficient health care delivery through integrated systems. That philosophy has helped Group Health gain national attention in the search for a way to tame runaway health care costs.

Over the next 20 years, if the community takes full advantage of its opportunities, Tripp Umbach foresees the Riverpoint campus’s economic impact in Eastern Washington jumping from $212 million a year now to $1.6 billion.

But that requires an energetic commitment by the community to set the table, including support from Congress and the Legislature to assure adequate residency placements, capital construction and faculty hires. It also requires, as the consultant reiterated and Group Health’s Armstrong reinforced, that our resources be harnessed as a team.

At present, however, two conspicuous players in Spokane’s health care community are at war. Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Community Health Systems Inc., which owns Deaconess Medical Center, are locked in a series of conflicts that have escalated ever since for-profit Community Health acquired Deaconess – and later Rockwood Clinic.

We understand that competitiveness between two major hospitals is inevitable – even desirable when it benefits consumers – but this counterproductive battle threatens to undermine Spokane’s overall health care future at a time of critical decision-making. Even in Deaconess’ nonprofit days, it and Sacred Heart had their tiffs, but they ultimately found a way to temper competitiveness with cooperation.

The two hospitals have a major role to play as Spokane works toward the exciting potential that Tripp Umbach described. Much needs to be done in both the public and private sectors, and Providence and Community Health need to demonstrate they can end their squabbling and contribute to an integrated approach.

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