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Collaboration at Its Best

New Teaching Health Clinic meets vital community needs

From left: Residents Serkan Sahin, M.D., internal medicine; Hela Kelsch, D.O., family medicine; and Christine Prato, M.D., psychiatry; demonstrate the wide ranging capabilities of the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic.
From left: Residents Serkan Sahin, M.D., internal medicine; Hela Kelsch, D.O., family medicine; and Christine Prato, M.D., psychiatry; demonstrate the wide ranging capabilities of the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic.

“When this first started three years ago, it really was a leap of faith,” says Judy Benson, M.D., director of medical education for Providence Health Care and for a community consortium known as the Spokane Teaching Health Center. “A group of enthusiastic people looked at the health care needs of our community and said, ‘We need to do this for Spokane.’”

The result of that leap—the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic—opened on the Washington State University Spokane campus on Aug. 1. From concept to care, the new clinic is a model of collaboration at its very best.

Collaborating to Expand Care

The need was clear: Spokane had a looming shortage of primary care physicians in the community. Although the local universities were bringing more medical students to the area, there weren’t enough residency positions available to train them all after they graduated.

After graduating from medical school, physicians are required to complete a minimum three-year residency-training program in their specialty before they go into practice. Well over half of the primary care physicians who complete residencies in Spokane choose to stay and practice here. Dr. Benson, a graduate of Providence’s Internal Medicine Residency Spokane, is a case in point. Expanding residency positions would be crucial to retaining more physicians in eastern Washington.

Federal funding limits had restricted the size of the area’s residency programs for years. But in 2013, grant funding became available through the Health Resources and Services Administration. There was just one hitch: The funds couldn’t flow to a hospital or university.

That’s where the enthusiastic leap came in.

Unified in their commitment to the community’s health, Empire Health Foundation, Providence Health Care and Washington State University quickly formed a consortium. Operating together as the Spokane Teaching Health Center, the group drafted a plan for a new teaching clinic, applied for the grant and landed it. “It was amazing how quickly everybody came together to make this happen,” Dr. Benson says. “And look where we are now.”

Since 2013, 25 positions have been added for resident physicians in eastern Washington. Today, more than 70 residents in multiple disciplines see patients in the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic.

“Everybody brought an important piece to the table,” Dr. Benson says.

  • WSU provided the clinic site on its Spokane campus and arranged bond funding for the building. Its advanced registered nurse practitioner students, pharmacy students and incoming (2017) medical students will receive training alongside the residents, as well as health sciences students from Eastern Washington University.
  • Empire Health Foundation committed personnel to put the consortium together and financial backing to secure it.
  • Providence brought decades of experience in training residents and running clinics, as well as substantial financial support, and will continue to manage the new clinic.

Collaborating to Improve Care

The collaborative spirit that made the clinic possible continues inside its doors, where residents and students in multiple disciplines work side by side, under the supervision of board-certified faculty members, to optimize care for patients. It’s a forward-thinking departure from the traditional model, where residents train mainly with other residents in their own specialty. “This is the way health care is going to be done in the future,” Dr. Benson says, “and we want our residents to lead the way in this new collaborative model.”

Third-year internal medicine resident Serkan Sahin, M.D., is one of many residents who participated in planning sessions for the clinic. “Our goal was to create a patient-centered medical home, where patients can come and get all of their needs taken care of in one place,” he says. A person with back pain, for example, might come in to see a primary care physician for an exam, learn exercises from a physical therapist, get recommendations for relieving depression from a resident psychiatrist, and review medications with a pharmacist on the way out.

Integrated behavioral health is a particularly leading-edge aspect of the new clinic, says Christine Prato, M.D., a second-year psychiatry resident. Psychiatric care is a big health care shortage in the area; nearly 11 percent of Spokane adults report poor mental health.

At the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic, residents and students in multiple disciplines work side by side to provide patient-centered care.
At the Spokane Teaching Health Clinic, residents and students in multiple disciplines work side by side to provide patient-centered care.

“In this clinic, psychiatrists consult with patients’ primary care providers and case managers, making mental health care more accessible to more people,” Dr. Prato says. “Everybody comes together to focus on our patients.”

That passion for helping patients was something Hela Kelsch, D.O., a third-year family medicine resident from Spokane, kept at the forefront as she provided input into the building’s design. “We thought about what would help our patients the most, and it resulted in a clinic that will attract new physicians to the community and allow us to provide more care for more people.”

Adds Dr. Sahin, “It’s incredibly exciting. It really feels like progress—like we’re doing something new and better, and taking steps forward toward positive change.”