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Riverpoint Medical School would be economic dynamo

A four-year medical school in Spokane would support more than 9,000 new jobs by 2030, and generate $1.6 billion in new economic activity, a new study says.

Entitled "America's Next Great Academic Health Center," the report and its co-authors say the doctors and medical research produced at a Riverpoint medical campus would also improve health care throughout Eastern Washington, especially small communities under-served today.

"What this region needs is doctors seeing patients," said Paul Umbach, a senior principal of Pittsburgh-based TrippUmbach.

The consulting firm's study, sponsored by 17 public and private entities, was unveiled to community leaders this morning.

Out of an optimal class of 120, the study says, 46 would remain in Eastern Washington, and at least seven would practice in smaller communities.

An earlier study estimates the region will need an additional 1,000 doctors by 2025.

Senior Project Director Angie Lockwood said medical training in Spokane and residencies served in outlying towns helps establish personal relationships, and ties to hospitals and other health care assets.

Those doctors are less likely to move on, she said.

But more doctors is only one benefit _ and not the biggest _ of a school with a minimum of 100 students per class, Umbach said.

Annual spending on medical research, $12 million in 2009, would jump to $70 million by 2030. Commercialization of that research, and the work of other companies attracted to the region, could have an economic impact of more than $650 million.

"That's a steep climb, but it's supportable," Umbach said.

TrippUmbach has prepared similar studies for several other cities, Umbach said. None had the assets already in place in Spokane, he said, notably Washington State University's pharmacy and nursing school facilities, and the first-year medical and dental school programs established in 2008 in conjunction with Eastern Washington University and the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Emerging federal health policies will encourage the concentration of medical resources that fosters multi-discipline training and care, Umbach said.

"You have an existing framework," Lockwood said, and community leadership that has coalesced behind the vision of a four-year medical school.

But, Umbach cautioned, there is no guarantee of success.

"If you just do nothing, this won't happen," he said.

Bert Caldwell
Bert Caldwell oversees production of the opinion pages, including writing editorials, and editing and selecting letters, columns and cartoons.