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WSU and Veterans Affairs expand primary care for veterans with outpatient teaching clinic

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 1, 2020

After speeches were given, (from left) Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center director Dr. Robert Fischer, WSU Spokane Chancellor Daryll DeWald, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and VA Dr. Kim Morris hold a plaque commemorating a partrnership between the VA medical center and the WSU medical school in Spokane, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. The effort will put VA doctors and other caregivers in the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic on the WSU Spokane campus.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
After speeches were given, (from left) Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center director Dr. Robert Fischer, WSU Spokane Chancellor Daryll DeWald, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and VA Dr. Kim Morris hold a plaque commemorating a partrnership between the VA medical center and the WSU medical school in Spokane, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. The effort will put VA doctors and other caregivers in the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic on the WSU Spokane campus. (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

Veterans will have more access to primary care in a different setting this fall in Spokane, as the Department of Veterans Affairs is opening an outpatient clinic in collaboration with Washington State University Health Sciences.

The primary care clinic will be located on the second floor of the Spokane Teaching Health Center, and teams of providers, including physicians and nurses from the VA, will staff the clinic, which could serve more than 2,000 veterans. The clinic also will serve as a training ground for medical students in many fields from WSU as well as other local universities.

The Spokane Teaching Health Center is a collaboration and nonprofit formed by the Empire Health Foundation, Providence Health Care and Washington State University Health Sciences in 2013.

The center is currently home to several residency programs, including family medicine, internal medicine and psychiatry, where physicians come to train after completing their medical degrees.

The center also hosts students from local medical, pharmacy, therapy and nursing programs from the University of Washington Medical School, Eastern Washington University as well as WSU.

“With a core underlying theme of really serving the under-served in our state and our region, and that’s both in rural and urban areas, we want to also continue to build out our presence and build out Spokane as not just a regional but national center for health and medicine so people from multiple states and regions come to this area,” WSU President Kirk Schulz said Tuesday morning at a press conference announcing the partnership.

With a VA outpatient clinic and partnership in place, WSU will have opportunities to create more local residencies for medical students looking to stay in the area and practice medicine in eastern Washington.

“Solving the health care workforce shortage is not something any one of us can tackle alone and each of the organizations in this community from those who provide the education to those who hire health care professionals all play an important role,” Traci Couture, the executive director of the Spokane Teaching Health Center, said.

The VA will lease the clinic space from WSU, which is on the second floor of the Spokane Teaching Health Center, complete with four examination rooms and a consultation room as well as ample space for providers and future providers in training.

The VA has hired two physicians to lead two Patient Aligned Care Teams, the model with which the VA is treating veterans in a primary care setting. The VA-WSU outpatient clinic partnership is only one of two demonstration sites approved nationally where the VA is partnering with academic communities to provide health care to veterans.

“We’re going to be the model for the rest of the country to follow,” Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Monday outside the center.

She praised the collaboration as a “win-win” for both local veterans and the growing medical education community in Spokane.

The congresswoman is taking the lead on legislation in Congress to reauthorize federal funding for teaching health centers nationally on the Energy and Commerce Committee, she said. Teaching health centers, which often host several medical residency programs, can produce medical providers that stay in those communities.

“(Doctors) are more likely to stay and practice where they do their residency,” McMorris Rodgers said. “We’ve embraced this strategy in Spokane, and I am proud that the teaching health clinic in Spokane has become a national leader.”

The partnership between WSU and the VA has been in the works for years, Dr. Kim Morris, designated education officer and chief of geriatrics, rehabilitation and extended care at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, said. She expects that once furniture and equipment is moved into the clinic, it will be ready to open to veterans this fall.

“For our veterans, they will have increased access to primary care in a very innovative and collaborative environment,” Morris said. “For our academic affiliates and health professional partners such as pharmacy, behavioral health, social work, nursing, we will be able to collaborate and innovate.”

Currently, VA medical care in Spokane is all based at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, and while there are outpatient clinics in other parts of the Inland Northwest for veterans, the VA clinic in the Spokane Teaching Health Center will be the first outpatient clinic for veterans in Spokane.

Morris said students from a variety of disciplines will be able to learn in the clinic, including students or professors conducting research in collaboration with the VA and veterans as well. Currently, medical students can do rotations out at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, but working alongside VA providers in an outpatient clinic will offer students a different clinical setting to learn in.

“This will open up new opportunities for our faculty and our VA colleagues to work with Ph.D. students and medical students and do research important to our students and medical community,” Schulz said.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story misidentified Dr. Kim Morris with the VA. We apologize for the error.


Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story 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.

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