Before starting medical school at Washington State University, Carly Celebrezze helped with outreach for Columbia Valley Community Health in Wenatchee.
During the summer, clinic staff visited migrant labor camps around the region to provide mental health care, checkups and dentistry services. In the winter, they’d do similar outreach among homeless people.
Speaking Tuesday at a WSU event announcing the university’s own push to create a mobile health clinic, Celebrezze said her work has shown how traveling medical clinics can help people who are often excluded from health care because of income, language, lack of transportation or lack of insurance.
“I truly believe that a mobile clinic can help solve these problems,” she said.
To create a Spokane-based mobile clinic, WSU has partnered with the Spokane Alliance, a group of roughly 30 churches, nonprofits and other community organizations.
The alliance will have community forums and gather feedback from stakeholders through the end of the summer.
Some ideas that already have been proposed are bringing the clinic, along with interpreters, to neighborhoods with a large number of Russian and Slavic residents, providing care around Spokane’s homeless shelters and treating people in rural areas of the county, said Dave Kovac, secretary for the Spokane Firefighters Union, a member of the alliance.
The project is funded through a new endowment from the late William Crosetto, a Ritzville rancher who left the bulk of his estate to charitable causes.
John Tomkowiak, dean of the medical school, said the project was “exactly what Elson had in mind,” referring to the university’s late president Elson S. Floyd, for whom the medical school is named.
“We have an amazing opportunity to really change the landscape of health care in Spokane,” he said.
The hope is for the clinic to be running this fall. It will combine medical students with other health specialties to create a team-oriented approach, Tomkowiak said.
Dave Lee, a health care IT worker who was at the event representing Fuse Washington, a progressive advocacy group, spoke about his experience surviving leukemia as a teenager, then dealing with a tumor while he was in graduate school.
At the time, Lee was living in Washington, D.C., and had health insurance and money to cover copays, transportation and clinics within walking distance of home. Over the months, he waited for test results and had the tumor removed, he said it was hard to focus on school.
“Even with all of these advantages, this process was hard,” he said. The tumor ended up being benign, and Lee was able to finish school.
“When you’re sick, all you should have to think about is getting better,” he said.
Andy CastroLang, a pastor at Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ, said she’s glad to see work being done to expand access to health care in Spokane. Her church, an alliance member, is located downtown at Fourth Avenue and Washington Street. She said many of the people who walk through the doors have mental and physical health needs that aren’t being met.
“We’re sandwiched between two hospitals, Deaconess and Providence, and even so, it’s a health-care desert,” she said.
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