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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Legislature clears way for WSU medical school

Debate over funding still awaits

OLYMPIA — The Legislature gave Washington State University the authority to start its own medical school in Spokane this morning as the Senate gave final approval to a bill that repeals a 1917 statute that gave University of Washington the sole rights to a state-sponsored medical school. In a 47-1 vote, the Senate sent to Gov. Jay Inslee the House version of a bill that says both schools can operate a medical school. But no money is attached to that legislation. The approval was not in doubt as both chambers had passed separate versions of the same bill by large margins earlier this month. “Thank you for your confidence and trust in WSU,” President Elson Floyd, who watched the debate from the Senate gallery, told legislators who gathered after the passage in Majority Leader Mark Schoesler’s office for a celebration. “We will deliver.” A decision on WSU’s request for $2.5 million to seek accreditation and hire faculty for a medical school on its Spokane campus will be made separately in the 2015-17 budget. Inslee’s initial budget proposal has no money for that program, or for UW’s program on the WSU-Spokane campus, which is part of the established medical school’s five-state consortium known as WWAMI for the first letters of the states involved: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. House Democrats are scheduled to release their proposal for the operating budget on Friday, which will give the two schools an indication of what type of financial support they will give expanded medical education in Spokane, where UW also has plans to increase the number of students it trains. WWAMI has 40 first-year students and nine second-year students in Spokane and until last fall the two universities worked together on that program. When WSU announced plans to start its own medical school, UW officials broke off the partnership and began discussing a new arrangement with Gonzaga University just across the Spokane River from the current location. Debate on the bill centered on the state’s growing need for doctors, which supporters said warranted a second medical school, while staying away from the ongoing friction between the two universities over operating in Spokane. Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, spoke of a coming “drought of health care” in some areas as the state’s population grows, and Schoesler called the WSU plan the next step forward for that care. The state already has “one of the finest medical schools in the country: at UW, Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, said. “The issue, obviously, is whether or not to have a second medical school in the state of Washington,” Bailey said. “I think the time has come.” Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, the lone no vote, said later that while the initial startup costs for the WSU med school are small, the ongoing costs once it is up and running are substantial. The state would have more success in drawing doctors to underserved areas with a program that paid off their student loans for every year they worked in such a location in Washington. “There are better ways of spending that money” to improve health care, Pedersen said, and expanding WWAMI in Spokane “would absolutely be one of them.”