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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

WSU unveils mobile unit that will bring doctors, medical students to rural communities that need them

WSU Health Sciences Vice President and Chancellor Dr. Daryll DeWald speaks during an unveiling ceremony for the new William A. Crosetto Mobile Health Care Unit on the morning of Oct. 9, 2019 at WSU Health Sciences Spokane. The Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine partnered with WSU to use the bus as a separate nonprofit service to rural communities and to train WSU medical students. (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

Sometime in early 2020, teams of WSU Health Sciences Spokane medical students and faculty will hop in an RV and head out on a road trip with a serious mission: bringing medical care to rural communities.

The first mobile medical unit was unveiled Wednesday morning on the medical school campus.

On the outside, it mostly looked like a normal recreational vehicle. But the Range Health logo emblazoned on the sides hinted at what it contained: two exam rooms as well as an intake and blood testing area.

Range Health is the name of the new nonprofit that will operate the mobile clinic.

While Range Health is independent, it’s run by a board of directors and officers who are faculty or staff members in the WSU medical, nursing and pharmacy programs.

“The mobile health care unit will travel to rural and underserved communities to provide comprehensive primary health care, urgent care procedures and preventative screening,” said John Tomkowiak, founding dean of the WSU College of Medicine.

Students and faculty members will rotate in teams on the unit. The program will initially involve medical students, but Tomkowiak said the program will eventually be a part of interprofessional curriculum for nursing, pharmaceutical and medical students learning to work as a team.

“For our medical students, it will become a part of their required clinical experiences in their first and second year,” Tomkowiak said. “We want them to understand: What are the obstacles that people in rural communities face?”

WSU medical students worked with community members and organizations to determine exactly how the mobile unit could better serve communities in and around the Spokane area, collaboratively drafting and completing a needs assessment.

Ravneet Waraich, a second year medical student at WSU and one of the leaders of the student mobile health group, said students reached out to local school districts, health care providers, public officials and other stakeholders in order to see what communities need, in order not to duplicate services. The mobile unit will travel to communities in the Spokane area at first and then head elsewhere in northeastern Washington.

“We’ve learned about the specific challenges and barriers these communities face with regards to health care access,” Waraich said. “These include transportation, dental and mental health access as well as housing difficulties within Spokane itself.”

Waraich said the clinic would offer services to a range of people, including, for example, an elderly patient in Sprague who would need to come to the city to get his toenails clipped because he cannot bend over.

“This is a very simple fix to have this mobile clinic come 40 minutes outside Spokane,” she said.

Waraich said students are excited about beginning rounds on the mobile medical unit, not only to practice what they have learned but also to learn from communities exactly what they need.

“Health equity is a vision that everyone should be afforded a fair and just opportunity to obtain their full health potential, which is what the mobile medicine program is aiming to do,” she said.

The mobile medical unit was paid for with a donation from a late Othello rancher and philanthropist named William Crosetto, whose name is printed on the side of the unit. Crosetto had a passion for rural access to medical care, Shelly O’Quinn, CEO of the Innovia Foundation, said on Wednesday.

“(Rural health care) was one of his primary interests,” O’Quinn said. “And it was really driven by the fact that he wanted nothing to do with telemedicine. He wanted to be able to see a doctor in person, and he wanted to ensure that other residents in those communities could see a doctor in person in their hometown.”

Crosetto gave a $1 million endowment to the WSU College of Medicine for the mobile unit, and $500,000 of that donation went directly to developing and designing the mobile unit. The rest of the funds are in an endowed fund that will continue to provide financial support for the mobile unit in the future.

The mobile medical unit unveiled Wednesday is the first of what will eventually be a fleet stationed at several WSU campuses throughout the state. The bus will go on an educational tour to WSU’s Tri-Cities, Vancouver and Everett campuses in October.

“The idea is we want a coach at every campus where we’ll deliver health care, and then you can imagine a 90- to 120-mile radius around those campuses,” Tomkowiak said.

The mobile unit will start providing care in northeastern Washington, beginning in the first quarter of 2020, Tomkowiak said, and the university has already secured funding to build a second mobile unit.

“So if we have one in Vancouver, Everett, Tri-Cities and Spokane, all of a sudden we’ve covered a lot of eastern Washington and a little bit in southwest Washington and beyond. We envision that happening in the next couple years,” he said.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.