Bill aims to recruit, retain physicians for rural, underserved areas

Murrow News ServiceJanuary 17, 2014 

OLYMPIA -- A bill under consideration by the state House Committee on Higher Education aims to recruit and retain primary care physicians in rural and underserved areas.

House Bill 2109 would establish a residency program at Kadlec Health System in Richland under the auspices of the University of Washington's School of Medicine.

Representatives Larry Haler, R-Richland, and Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, are sponsors. An amendment, introduced by Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima, would add the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima to the program.

"There has been a severe shortage of family practice physicians in eastern Washington, specifically southeastern Washington," Klippert told the committee Friday.

Four Kadlec representatives testified before the committee, including Rand J. Wortman, Kadlec's president and CEO.

Kadlec is already a teaching institution that serves students, but lacks a residency program, Wortman said.

"We're ready to step up to the next level," he said.

Amy Carrasco, Kadlec's director of graduate medical education, said training more physicians will help expand the breadth of medical support available to the community.

Carrasco told the Herald that the residency program will accept candidates with Doctor of Medicine degrees (MDs), as well as those with Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degrees (DOs).

Nationwide, more than 500 medical school graduates were unable to find residency programs last year after graduating from medical school, Klippert said. About 65 percent of physicians settle in the same area in which they complete their residency.

More physicians to meet an increased demand for primary care will also help drive down health care costs, Klippert said.

Haler said the shortage of primary care physicians impacts the quality of life not just for citizens of eastern Washington, but for the entire state.

"We need to have adequate care for our children as well as our adults," Haler said.

If passed, the bill would appropriate $6.6 million to the UW School of Medicine during the 2015 fiscal year, when the program would begin accepting residents. Four million would go to expanding family medicine residencies, with another $2.6 million for expanding those residencies throughout Washington.

"It's a lot of money," Haler told the Herald, "but in the long-term well-being of the region's citizens, it's a great investment."

The money is needed to underwrite start-up costs and provide proper training facilities for family medicine, Wortman said. Federal funding for graduate medical education would be available for the program, but not for several years.

Kadlec has already invested $300,000 of its own money for the program, and stands to lose up to $1 million a year by participating in the residency program, Haler said.

Another hearing is scheduled Jan. 21.

w Washington State University student Matt Benoit: 509-947-9277, mbenoit@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @Matt_Benoit_

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