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

Advancing rural health in Northeast Washington and beyond

By Keith Payet, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Washington Sponsored content provided by UnitedHealthcare

Access to health care across rural Washington is a growing challenge. The state’s rural areas have a shortage of primary care providers, and in many rural counties, including Ferry County, more than 70% of all physicians providing direct patient care are 55 or older. Rural communities are also typically in need of additional dental and behavioral health providers. That means without a new generation of providers, the shortage could get worse as doctors retire.

And, we know access to nutritious food helps improve health outcomes. But food insecurity rates in Northeast Washington’s rural counties are among the highest in the state. According to Feeding America, Ferry and Okanogan counties have food insecurity rates of 15% and 13.4%, respectively, the highest rates in the state.

Collaborating to Strengthen Communities

UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Washington is committed to building healthier communities and ensuring all Washingtonians have access to high-quality care. Our team is working collaboratively with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), providers, hospitals, and members to expand access to care for Northeast Washington communities and people across the state.

Addressing rural health care challenges requires short- and long-term interventions. At the heart of our approach to advance healthcare for Washingtonians is listening to members, communities, and providers about what’s most important, increasing access and equity in underserved communities and expanding capacity for community-based whole-person health care.

We’ve had thoughtful conversations with Northeast Washington stakeholders including Salvation Army of Spokane, Spokane Public Library, CHAS Health, Healthy Ferry County Coalition, Okanagan County Community Action Council and NEW Health to better understand the community needs and potential solutions.

As a result, we’ve partnered on localized, culturally relevant solutions to improve health outcomes in Northeast Washington communities including:

  • Collaborating with the Okanagan County Community Action Council to helped fund their new Food Bank Distribution Center. The OCCAC is the lead contractor and distributor for nine food pantries across Okanogan County, which has helped to distribute almost 1 million pounds of food to rural and tribal communities across the county.
  • In Stevens County, we’re partnering with NEW Health, which aims to strengthen the region’s health care workforce. Specifically, we invested in the organization’s NEW Health University career training program to implement career exposure events in dental, pharmacy and medical assistant positions that aim to enable rural youth to stay local and achieve living-wage employment.
  • Helping Catholic Charities Eastern Washington provide case management for residents of permanent supportive housing projects.
  • Supporting healthcare conferences in Spokane and Yakima to provide a space for all stakeholders to listen, learn and identify potential solutions to advance health equity of Washingtonians.
  • Beyond Northeast Washington, over the last two years alone, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Washington has granted more than $2.5 million to Washington organizations that share our commitment to address social drivers of health in the state, including:

    Workforce Development, Education & Patient Programs

    • Domestic Violence Services of Benton and Franklin Counties to provide employment training and resources to individuals in need.
    • La Casa Hogar to support adult education.
    • Peninsula Community Health Services to remodel a medical respite facility.
    • Food Insecurity

      • Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic to expand staff resources to address population health needs.
      • The Moore Wright Group to enhance food distribution in the Grays Harbor and Pacific areas.
      • Washington Food Coalition for awareness and education.
      • Behavioral Health

        • Olympic Educational Service District 114 in Kitsap County to support the mental health of children, with a focus on remote and underserved communities.
        • Supporting the Kalispel Tribe to implement a culturally relevant substance use treatment curriculum.
        • Collaborating with the Northwest Portland Indian Health Board to provide financial assistance for students pursuing Behavioral Health Aide (BHA) education program.
        • Addressing Rural Disparities in the Future

          We remain laser-focused on supporting the health of Northeast Washington and beyond, including those in the state’s underserved and rural communities.

          For more than a decade, we have worked to improved health outcomes for Washington residents through culturally diverse and accessible care. It’s our honor to serve Washingtonians, state partners, community-based organizations and providers to help Washingtonians live healthier lives and help make the health system work better for everyone.


          For more information on our commitment to serving all of Washington State, including rural communities, visit