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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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McMorris Rodgers, Biden administration representative hear pitch for continued health training in Spokane

Feb. 22, 2023 Updated Wed., Feb. 22, 2023 at 9:03 p.m.

Doctors-in-training in Eastern Washington gave their pitches Wednesday to the area’s federal lawmaker and a health official representing the White House about how to improve a decade-old local teaching center designed to train physicians who will stay to practice in the Spokane area.

Their area of agreement? Give us more time to see patients.

“I get a lot of energy from taking care of patients,” said Aditya Nathan, an osteopathic doctor who’s in his third year in the internal medicine program at the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic. “I joined this profession to help people.”

Carole Johnson, the administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration in the administration of President Joe Biden, said that message was received.

“We’re investing in primary care providers,” said Johnson, who was on a visit to the clinic along with U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Wednesday. “We want them to be providing care, and providing primary care in underserved communities, in rural communities.”

McMorris Rodgers and Johnson met at the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic in the University District with a half dozen medical and osteopathic doctors as the federal government ponders an extension of several training programs for physicians that point them to work in underserved areas. That includes continued funding for the 72 teaching health clinics in the country, which provide residency training slots for doctors pursuing their specialties.

Training centers are located in areas deemed underserved by existing health care workers, including in Spokane and its surrounding rural counties. The Spokane clinic was established in 2013 and has included social workers, psychiatric care providers and pharmacy residents in care teams intended to provide a full suite of treatment to patients.

McMorris Rodgers chairs the committee in the House of Representatives that oversees the graduate training of doctors. The congresswoman said after the meeting with the doctors that the need for continued funding of teaching health centers was obvious.

“This center has become vital to providing the residency that we need in Eastern Washington, around primary care, internal medicine, OBGYN, psychiatry,” McMorris Rodgers said.

The clinic is run in partnership with Providence Health Services, the Empire Health Foundation and Washington State University, and since 2017 has graduated 36 physicians to practice either family or internal medicine with grant funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration, according to the clinic.

Most of them have remained in Washington, and many who addressed the visitors Wednesday said they intend to remain in the area.

Congress is on the clock to renew the program, with existing funding running out in September. Lawmakers in McMorris Rodgers’ committee will have to work this summer to determine what to fund, including any extension or expansion of the teaching health centers.

“It’s great to have someone from the administration here, that we’ll be working with to review this program, as it is expiring, and figuring out how it’s structured, moving forward, and funded,” said McMorris Rodgers, who has pushed for continued funding for the programs in past federal spending bills.

The Health Resources and Services Administration awarded $155 million to support the teaching health centers for the fiscal year ending in September, including more than $2.8 million for the internal and family medicine programs in Spokane.

That funding was largely boosted by the American Rescue Plan, the one-time stimulus package pushed by the Biden administration for coronavirus aid in 2021.

The doctors assembled Wednesday urged Johnson and McMorris Rodgers to consider measures that would make it easier to deal with administrative tasks, and to consider funding for efforts that would take clinicians into the community. Suggestions included investing in artificial intelligence to assist with the completion of paperwork, and funding more mobile clinics at places including local schools.

McMorris Rodgers said the need for trained physicians in the region will only increase following the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I heard today that – this isn’t a surprise – we need more doctors, too,” the congresswoman said. “The need in Eastern Washington continues to grow, and coming out of COVID, the strain that has put on our health care system, the need just continues to grow.”

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