Religious directives that some worried could restrict medical care at a new health clinic preparing to open on the Washington State University Spokane campus are being jettisoned.
The announcement by Providence Health & Services Friday comes two days after the American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern about the clinic’s bylaws and asked Washington State University regents to address the matter at their Sept. 11 meeting.
The Spokane Teaching Health Center is a consortium of Providence, WSU Spokane and the Empire Health Foundation. It’s expected to open on the WSU Spokane campus in 2016, and regents will consider selling $15 million in revenue bonds to build a new facility for the clinic.
It will provide a variety of services and will be staffed by medical students, medical residents and other health care professionals.
The ACLU, in a letter to WSU regents, noted that the bylaws of the Spokane Teaching Health Center say the clinic won’t “perform or permit any medical procedure that offends the moral or ethical values or directives of Providence, including but not limited to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services.” Those directives forbid or restrict reproductive services including birth control, vasectomies, fertility treatment and abortion.
Elaine Couture, regional chief executive at Providence Health Care, said Friday, “The new Spokane Teaching Health Center is a secular (non-religious) organization and… the scope of services provided by the Spokane Teaching Health Center and the secular consortium partners will not be limited” by Catholic health care directives.
A news release added that the partners would “modify the provisions of the (clinic’s) governing documents to reflect that understanding.”
“We’re extremely pleased to hear it,” said Don Barbieri, who with Sharon Smith established a charitable foundation in Spokane that protested the restrictions on the new clinic. The Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund sent out emails to supporters asking them to contact WSU regents, and Barbieri and Smith said they contacted WSU Spokane Chancellor Lisa Brown and WSU President Elson Floyd in recent months to share their concerns.
Said Smith, “We have made sure WSU knew how we felt, but with only two weeks left until the regents meeting, we thought it best to go straight to (the public).”
It remains unclear why the bylaws were put into place for the new clinic, which will be located on the campus of a public university and has received $900,000 in federal funding.
The nonprofit clinic, announced with fanfare last year, will create six new medical residencies and possibly dozens more over the next five years, the three partners said in a description of the project in July. Existing residency training programs in Spokane also would move to the new clinic.
The clinic, to be called the University District Health Center, is expected to provide multi-disciplinary health and dental care to primarily low-income patients.
Officials with WSU Spokane declined comment on the controversy this week and representatives of the Empire Health Foundation didn’t return calls seeking comment.
The clinic is part of an expansion of graduate medical education opportunities in Eastern Washington, a longtime goal of city leaders and politicians in both parties.
WSU Spokane has announced its intention to try to establish a second medical school here. Currently, medical education in Spokane is provided under the University of Washington School of Medicine’s multi-state WWAMI program.
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