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Senate panel calls for full audit of WWAMI

OLYMPIA – As questions over dueling medical school proposals continue to mount, lawmakers said they wanted a better accounting of how the money is being spent.

A Senate committee Thursday decided University of Washington’s multistate medical school program should be audited as the Legislature decides how to expand it in Spokane.

At the end of a sometimes contentious hearing over UW plans to expand the number of medical students it has in Spokane, the Senate Health Care Committee added a requirement for a full audit by legislative financial experts of the a multistate medical training program that involves Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho and goes by the acronym WWAMI.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about how WWAMI funding works,” said Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, adding there’s a possibility that Washington is subsidizing other states in the program.

Ian Goodhew, director of government relations for UW Medicine, said the other states pay for their students’ slots in the program and the Legislature can pay for more slots for Washington residents. The Spokane branch of WWAMI will start a class of 40 students in the fall, and eventually will grow that number to 120 per year if the Legislature approves. The bill calls for the program to grow to that level “as quickly as practical.”

Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, sponsored the bill to direct UW medical school expansion in Spokane, and agreed to support the amendment.

“It’s been around for 40 years,” Frockt said of WWAMI. “I don’t think it’s needed, but I understand the concern.” 

Until last fall, UW and Washington State University had a partnership to operate WWAMI at the Riverpoint Campus in Spokane. After WSU announced plans to start its own medical school in Spokane, UW said it would look for a new partner, and is in negotiations with Gonzaga University. UW and WSU disagree how to split state funding from the joint program.

Frockt’s original bill called for WSU to transfer to UW all money and building space the state has approved for WWAMI in Spokane. Baumgartner, the primary sponsor of separate legislation that would give WSU the authority to start its own medical school, said some facilities aren’t appropriate to transfer because they were built in part with WSU’s bonding authority.

“It would have been nice for all of us for the two entities to have had a good pre-nup before the divorce took place,” said Frockt, who agreed to remove the section involving the transfer of money and building space. 

The universities initially said they would complete a memorandum of understanding on issues including money and facilities before the session started, but that still is being negotiated. UW officials said Wednesday afternoon that they submitted an offer last month and hadn’t heard back. Wednesday night, WSU offered to transfer $1.9 million to UW, which it said is the amount being spent to instruct WWAMI students, and a five-year lease on lab space on the Spokane campus at a rate based on actual cost.

At one point in Thursday’s hearing, Baumgartner, who opposed the bill, said it “was not a good faith effort” to address the issue of expanded medical education in Spokane. It has no Spokane-area sponsors, he said, and local legislators are the best judges of how to negotiate a Spokane issue.

“I take exception to my sponsoring a bill not in good faith,” Frockt replied. “All I’ve ever said, from the time of this whole issue coming forward, is there’s a way to do both the (WSU) medical school and the WWAMI expansion and that’s what this is about.”

After it was approved on a voice vote, the bill was sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which on Wednesday looked at Baumgartner’s bill to give WSU the ability to start a medical school. That bill has no price tag, but the committee said it wanted a closer look at the long-term costs and the best way to expand the number of medical professionals in the state.


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