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Spokane Medical Residency Programs Get a Boost

July 01, 2014
Six new medical residents will begin work in Spokane, WA on July 1, 2014 as a result of the efforts of a unique consortium that will fund their first year.

New medical residency slots and transition to new authority are significant news for Spokane

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Spokane, WA—Six new medical residents will begin work in Spokane on July 1 as a result of the efforts of a unique consortium provisionally approved in December to receive $900,000 to fund their first year.

Residents are newly-graduated medical doctors who must complete at least three additional years of graduate medical education in an accredited intensive physician training program before they can apply for their board certification within a specialty. Increasing the number of residents is key to reducing our region’s primary care shortage.

These six new resident physicians—three in family medicine and three in internal medicine—will increase the number of residency slots in Spokane from 74 to 80. The increase is significant news for Spokane, which for years has worked to increase residency slots as a way to ensure physicians stay in the region once they complete the final portion of their medical education. Washington State has 1,600 resident slots, with 1,500 in western Washington.

The Spokane Teaching Health Center (STHC) consortium, comprised of Empire Health FoundationProvidence Health Care and Washington State University Spokane, was formed late last year to apply for new funds made available to “teaching health centers” within the Affordable Care Act. These funds will support the training of the six new residents.

The granting agency, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), will have to receive new funding to continue the program, which is due to expire at the end of the federal fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2015. If no new money is appropriated, Empire Health Foundation has agreed to pay the expenses for the existing residents, allowing these six doctors to finish their training. Community stakeholders are working with Congressional representatives to continue the federal funding, which would sustain these positions and allow for further growth.

If the HRSA program is continued, STHC plans to apply for additional funds to create up to 39 more residency positions over the next five years. These positions could include six more each in family and internal medicine, three in family medicine rural track training, and 12 each in pediatrics (a new program) and psychiatry (a restoration), for a grand total of 119 positions in Spokane.

“The possibility of increasing the number of residency slots by 62 percent is incredibly exciting and significant for Spokane,” says Lisa Brown, chancellor of WSU Spokane.

“In order to qualify for the federal funding, the new residencies must be community-based,” says Antony Chiang, president of Empire Health Foundation. “The foundation is providing flexible start-up funds – at least $175,000 on top of the public funds -- to launch the consortium and invest in the leadership of this important community asset,” says Chiang. “Each of the partners is playing their part to make this work.”

“I’m very excited about these three organizations working together to grow graduate medical education – the residency programs and the medical school,” says Elaine Couture, regional chief executive for Providence Health Care. “In my 12 years here, Spokane has envisioned how it can do more to train and expand our health care work force and bring quality medical care to residents throughout the region. This work helps us realize the dream.”

Another important change is that oversight of most of the existing Providence-based residency programs has been transferred to the consortium. “The traditional funding stream for residencies is most often linked to medical schools and university hospitals,” says Brown. “It’s very unusual for a consortium like ours to oversee medical residencies, and it is an honor not only for WSU and the consortium members, but for the Spokane region.”

Moving to the consortium will be internal and family medicine, the transitional year residency (where 16 new doctors spend a year before moving to other residencies in their specialty areas), and a one-year sports medicine fellowship for primary care residents. Providence is also transferring sponsorship of its family medicine rural training track program, where residents spend their first year training in Spokane and their last two years in Colville to gain experience in rural communities.

The consortium has created a nine-member board of directors to oversee it. Mike Wilson, former CEO of Providence Health Care Spokane, serves as its executive director.

Providence Health Care’s four decades of sponsoring and partially funding medical education gives the consortium the expertise necessary to make this project a success. For now, the new residents will be based at Providence‘s residency clinic in the 5th & Browne Medical Building which provides free and low-cost health care.

WSU Spokane has agreed to fund the faculty, and in September the WSU Board of Regents will consider whether to allow the university to sell $15.2 million in general revenue bonds to finance the construction of a two-story, 42,000 square foot building that would house the residency clinic.

This facility would also serve as a teaching space for health sciences students from WSU, Eastern Washington University and University of Washington who share the WSU Spokane campus. They would work with the medical residents in inter-professional teams to serve the community. The clinic would be known as the University District Health Center.

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