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Wednesday, April 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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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.

The report, “America’s Next Great Academic Health Center,” 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 that are underserved today.

“What this region needs is doctors seeing patients,” said Paul Umbach, of Pittsburgh-based TrippUmbach.

The consulting firm’s study was released at a Friday morning meeting of community leaders.

Out of an optimal class of 120, the study says, 46 medical school graduates 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.

Greater Spokane Inc. President Rich Hadley noted that 80 percent of the doctors in the region are not natives, and that 80 percent of in-state applicants to the University of Washington School of Medicine are rejected.

Medical training in Spokane and residencies served in outlying towns help establish personal relationships and ties to hospitals and other health care assets, said Angie Lockwood, TrippUmbach’s senior project director.

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 in Spokane – $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 other cities, Umbach said. None had the assets in place that Spokane has, 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 UW Medical School.

WSU President Elson Floyd said getting a four-year medical school in Spokane would become the university’s top priority. Every $1 spent on medical research, he said, yields $5 in economic benefits to the community.

“It is high time for our city, this city, to have its own medical school,” Floyd said.

Avista Corp. Chairman Scott Morris challenged the group of almost 300 to make a medical school its objective the same way an earlier generation of leaders did with Expo ’74.

Nothing he saw during years of sitting on state development committees in Oregon and Washington promised as substantial an economic payoff, he said.

But state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, cautioned that the financial commitment would be substantial at a time Washington has significant financial challenges.

Fitting $80 million for a Biomedical & Health Sciences Building into the next capital budget is doable, she said. Finding money to operate the completed facility will be tougher.

“Take nothing for granted,” Brown said.

Asked about the potential impact of the newly enacted health care reform bill, Dr. Suzanne Allen, vice dean at the UW Medical School, said the law encourages the collaborative medical treatment and training backers envision for the Riverpoint campus.

“You guys have a great community for medical education,” she said.

Umbach said other cities his firm had helped, like Scranton, Penn., and Athens, Ga., started with less than Spokane, but succeeded with audacity and a combination of public and private funding.

It’s going to take a lot of money to get this going,” he said. “If you just do nothing, this won’t happen.”

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