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WSU, UW warned on med school

State senator tells schools to work it out

OLYMPIA – Washington’s two major universities need to work out their differences “in an amicable way” over training medical students in Spokane, the head of a key Senate committee warned representatives of both schools Tuesday.

“Work a little closer and try to work some of this out,” said Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. “Work this out to the benefit of citizens that we all serve.”

Officials from Washington State University and the University of Washington had just testified at the third hearing in two weeks about competing plans to expand medical education in Spokane. As in the previous hearings, WSU officials said their medical school would not conflict with the existing UW program but would fill the need for more family practice physicians and doctors in underserved rural areas. UW officials said they don’t object to WSU setting up its own medical school, as long as their program doesn’t lose funding.

“Give them their own resources to move forward,” said Genesee Adkins, a UW spokeswoman.

But when Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, asked why WSU’s offer to continue to cooperate on the established UW medical school in Spokane was rejected, Adkins made clear that ship has sailed.

“The continued partnership is no longer an option,” Adkins replied. “We wanted to see what could be done to keep the partnership together. WSU maintained pursuit of its school was its priority. Maintaining our program is our priority.”

UW is in discussions with Gonzaga University – which is just across the Spokane River from the WSU Spokane campus – to become a partner in its WWAMI medical school program, which trains students in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.

The two state schools also disagree on reconciling money the state has spent for medical education in Spokane. UW says it should get some $5.9 million the state has sent to WSU over the last several years for medical education in Spokane while the two schools were cooperating on WWAMI in Spokane. WSU Regents Chairman Mike Worthy said there’s a debate about how much of that money was used for the medical school but some was used for other health care education programs on the Spokane campus.

That would have to be sorted out, Worthy said. “It was never our intention that WWAMI would have a funding problem.”

The committee is considering legislation sponsored by Baumgartner that would change state law that restricts medical education to UW and make it a field of study WSU could also offer. Changing the law is necessary before the Legislature could set aside money for WSU to seek accreditation for the community-based medical school it is proposing for Spokane.

Baumgartner’s bill has 16 co-sponsors, and an identical bill in the House by Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, has 64 co-sponsors.

Before the hearing, Republican legislative leaders from both chambers said there was support to change the law that restricts medical education to UW. The bigger question would be how much it would cost, and could the state afford it.

“I think that Washington State has made a pretty good case to enter into the marketplace,” said Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, a political science professor at Central Washington University. “I’m still waiting to see how they pay for it.”

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