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Monday, January 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

Private meetings between UW, WSU explored ‘co-branding’ medical school in Spokane

Two private meetings this summer brought top officials from the University of Washington and Washington State University close to a deal on “co-branding” a medical school in Spokane.

Yet the efforts for a third and possibly final meeting to seal an agreement were stymied when WSU officials hesitated. And now the two schools are veering away from collaboration that would have shared local faculty, and brought medical school admissions, administration and research dollars to Spokane.

Scott Morris, chairman and CEO of Avista Corp., represented Spokane’s interests in the negotiations along with former Providence Health Care executive Mike Wilson. They wanted the two schools to strike a deal before each released reports bolstering their own plans for training more doctors in Spokane.

People “become entrenched” around such reports, Morris said.

WSU Regent Mike Worthy said he needed to delay the meetings with Morris, Wilson and UW leadership when it became apparent they were pushing for a contract when he had not yet informed his own board of the progress.

Worthy and WSU President Elson Floyd also said they wanted to publicize a feasibility report commissioned by WSU that they believe lays out a compelling case for WSU to have its own medical school.

“I felt no urgency to rush out and sign a deal,” Worthy said.

Floyd and Worthy say they anticipate further meetings in the hopes of reaching a deal to establish a WSU medical school to operate alongside UW Medical School’s existing five-state WWAMI program which offers medical training at WSU along with public universities in Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

The high-level meetings this summer, which also included UW President Michael Young and UW Regent Orin Smith, were disclosed during a Tuesday meeting of a UW task force considering changes to WWAMI.

The group will tell UW President Michael Young that the school should expand the number of WWAMI students in Spokane as fast as it can and make specific plans to tie research and commercialization to its WWAMI program. Most of that activity now takes place on the main medical school campus in Seattle.

“Now we’re at a point where it’s pretty hard to go back and say, ‘What does a collaboration look like?’ ” Smith said.

He wrote a letter Monday to Worthy denouncing the school’s feasibility study as “seriously flawed.”

Worthy said he told the group in both of the private meetings this summer – one in July in Seattle, the other in August in Spokane – that WSU would seek accreditation for its own medical school. WSU regents approved that move in a meeting last week.

A WSU medical school is the logical next step from the significant investments the school has made in health sciences, he said.

“The one thing we don’t do yet – we don’t graduate any Cougar doctors,” Worthy said.

Participants in Tuesday’s task force meeting, which was held at Avista headquarters, seemed unanimous on two things: that they don’t want the two schools to engage in an embarrassing “food fight” for funding in the 2015 legislative session, and that Spokane and Eastern Washington need more doctors.

Dissent between the schools could cause the Legislature to decline to fund either WWAMI expansion or the beginnings of a WSU med school, several participants said.

If that happens, Spokane becomes “collateral damage” in their battle, said Dave Clack, a task force member and former chairman of Old National Bank.

State Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who serves on the higher education committee and is vice chairman of the budget-writing Senate Ways and Means Committee, urged the schools to find a third option.

But he warned UW representatives, “there’s a great question about how interested UW is in Spokane.” A pilot program to teach second-year med students in Spokane only drew nine UW students this year. There was funding for 20 students.

“That doesn’t impress a lot of folks,” Baumgartner said.

Phyllis Campbell, a former Spokane bank executive and former WSU regent who’s on the task force, urged the schools to look beyond purple, gold, crimson and gray.

“The job of this task force is to ask ourselves if this is in the best interests of the state of Washington, not of Washington State University or the University of Washington.”

John Stucke contributed to this story.

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