Premera Blue Cross has announced grants totaling $10.5 million to expand access to and improve the quality of health care in rural communities in eastern Washington state.
The funding includes $5.5 million to Washington State University's Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in support of a family medicine residency program at Pullman Regional Hospital and to establish graduate medical residency sites across the eastern portion of the state. The remaining $5 million will support the efforts of the Empire Health Foundation in Spokane to address accessibility and equity challenges.
According to the National Rural Health Association, people living in rural areas are more likely to experience higher rates of premature death, disability, and chronic disease; more than one million people (14 percent of the state's population) live in rural Washington communities. The investments are part of Premera Blue Cross's efforts to strengthen rural health care by improving physician, nurse, and health aide recruitment and training; supporting provider-to-provider consultations with isolated rural doctors; integrating behavioral health care into clinical care; and increasing the capacity of mental health crisis centers.
"The demand for skilled medical professionals in our rural communities is not being met today. By creating residency programs in rural areas, we will greatly increase the likelihood that our graduates will remain in those communities to practice medicine," said Washington State University president Kirk Schulz. "With investments in medical education and training, motivated clinical students are better prepared to meet the unique health challenges in underserved areas, and we are thrilled that this partnership will help advance this important initiative and improve health outcomes for the communities we serve."