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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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New Riverpoint clinic, medical residencies funded by federal grant

A federal grant announced Friday will expand the number of medical residents in Spokane and help create a medical-training clinic in Spokane’s University District, where students and educators will work in teams to find better ways to deliver health care to area residents.

The $900,000 grant from the Department of Health and Human Services will cover the cost of adding six more medical residents in Spokane. Some of the money will also cover the cost of adding faculty and outfitting the new clinic, said Mike Wilson, senior adviser for Providence Health Care’s Spokane operations.

Providence Health, Washington State University Spokane and the Empire Health Foundation received the grant and will manage the operation as it moves forward.

The clinic will be in renovated space at WSU Spokane’s Riverpoint Campus.

Wilson said additional money will likely be needed to launch the new clinic, expected to open in 2015.

The six new residents can begin their work in July 2014.

Medical residents are graduates of medical schools who provide three or more years of hospital or clinical work under the guidance of advisers. The federal government controls the number of Medicare-funded residency slots; currently, there are 1,600 residencies in Washington but only 75 in Eastern Washington, according to a news release on the new clinic.

“These six additional residency slots bode well for our region since one of the most significant factors determining where a primary care provider will practice is where he or she completed his or her residency,” Elaine Couture, regional chief executive of Providence Health Care, said in the release.

Wilson said the federal funding is set to extend the program in its second year, so that in 2015 there will be money supporting 12 residents for the clinic.

The grant provides for a possible third year of funding if the program is successful.

Like other community clinics, the new training clinic will accept patients with or without insurance.

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s two current residency clinics, which primarily serve low-income patients, will be relocated to the Riverpoint clinic, Wilson said. Those clinics now have about 45 resident slots that would transfer to the new clinic as well.

The cost of medical care will be billed to patients’ insurance if they have it, most likely Medicaid or Medicare. But “We may well see privately insured patients” who want the kind of care the new clinic will offer, Wilson said. The clinic also will provide charity care to those without insurance.

“We see this as an opportunity to create a collaborative clinic that trains physicians, nurses, therapists and those providing behavioral health counseling” to work together and improve the delivery of community health care, Wilson said.

“We see this as being on the leading edge of the design of medical education,” he added.

WSU nursing and pharmacy students will also take part in the collaboration, said Lisa Brown, chancellor of WSU Spokane.

University of Washington medical students studying in Spokane will also take part, she said. Discussions with Eastern Washington University may include physical and occupational therapy students in the program, Brown added.

“Creating a clinic for our community while providing training for students on our campus has been a goal we’ve been working toward for some time,” Brown said.

She said WSU Spokane College of Nursing Dean Patricia Butterfield has pushed the school to move toward this approach since the closure of Spokane People’s Clinic in 2009.

The People’s Clinic was a community-based effort started in 1998 to provide low-income primary care. It was based at the now-closed Spokane YWCA building by Riverfront Park.

WSU’s nursing faculty and administrators were the driving forces behind that clinic but could not find steady funding to keep it operating.

“Since I got here this year,” Brown said, “Dean Butterfield has been a major advocate for making this one of our highest priorities.”

That the People’s Clinic often served more than 3,000 people a year showed that Spokane has a large population in need of affordable health care, Butterfield said.

She said the new clinic would mark the next step to a more comprehensive interprofessional clinic. “I can’t wait to see the first family come through the door,” she said.

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