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$1.3 million grant to help WSU, CHAS address regional primary care shortage

UPDATED: Mon., July 24, 2017, 7:41 p.m.

The WSU Spokane campus. (The Spokesman-Review)
The WSU Spokane campus. (The Spokesman-Review)

The WSU College of Nursing and CHAS Health have joined forces to land a $1.3 million federal grant they believe will help address the shortage of primary care providers in Eastern Washington.

The two-year grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration will enhance the nursing school’s program that prepares students to become nurse practitioners. The goal is to get more of them working in rural areas and in clinics caring for underserved populations.

Under the grant, WSU will partner with Community Health Association of Spokane, which will use grant money to provide a nurse practitioner in residence. That person will fill a dual role with WSU and CHAS to develop curriculum that addresses clinical and organizational challenges faced by the health care provider.

For CHAS, the position’s main focus will be to increase the number of WSU nurse practitioner students working in its clinics and their time spent there, said Lindsey Ruivivar, public policy and development manager for CHAS and the person who oversees the organization’s grants and external partnerships.

“CHAS seeks to overcome barriers to care,” she said. “It’s our hope that those students will choose to continue in Eastern Washington in an underserved setting, working with an underserved population.”

Ruivivar said primary care providers, those in other types of practice and area hospital officials find it difficult to recruit individuals into primary care.

“This grant is important not just for CHAS but for the entire region,” she said.

One-third of the grant dollars will fund tuition support and stipends for 15 to 30 nurse practitioner students should they agree to train primarily for practice in rural health clinics or those providing care to underserved populations with CHAS or other providers, said Addy Hatch, the college of nursing’s director of outreach and communications.

A program also will be created to connect program graduates to employment opportunities in those areas.

WSU’s doctor of nursing practice degree program accepted its first class in fall 2012, with its first 13 graduates receiving degrees in 2015. The degree is offered through WSU campuses in Spokane, the Tri-Cities and Vancouver.

The program, which takes three to five years to complete depending on a part-time or full-time course load, has grown year to year, Hatch said. The program’s most recent class had 23 graduates, the most to date.

“Nurse practitioners are in such high demand now because they are being used in primary care,” Hatch said.

And, as it is with medical students who tend to enter full-time practice where they served their residencies, WSU and CHAS – operator of clinics in Spokane, Spokane Valley, Deer Park, Cheney, Moscow, Clarkston and Lewiston – believe getting more nurse practitioner students working in Eastern Washington will begin to address a long-term need.

“We know from educational research that students trained in clinics that provide care to underserved people are more likely to practice in those clinics after graduation,” Janet Purath, project director and associate professor in the college of nursing, said in a news release.