For those who can’t get to the doctor, Washington State University is bringing the doctor to them.
At a press conference Tuesday, leaders from WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and Washington State University Vancouver spoke about the new William A. Crosetto Mobile Health Care Unit, designed to bring care to rural, underserved areas.
The 40-foot mobile unit is essentially a recreational vehicle outfitted as a primary care office, complete with examination rooms. It’s named after William A. Crosetto, a cattle rancher from Othello who died in January 2018 and donated funds for the unit’s creation.
It’s part of Range Health, a nonprofit academic health network focused on serving rural, underserved areas. Range is a separate 501(c)(3) entity in affiliation with WSU. It will have a board of directors composed of individuals from the colleges of medicine, pharmacy and nursing. The hope is to leverage a network of doctors, nurses and pharmacists to increase health care access.
Dr. John Tomkowiak, the founding dean of the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, said that all 39 counties in Washington have a primary care shortage.
“It’s our mission to serve communities across the state, and as the numbers suggest, every corner of Washington needs more health care,” Tomkowiak said.
According to The Washington Post, the federal government considers almost 80 percent of rural America as medically underserved, being home to 20 percent of the country’s population but only 10 percent of its doctors. Rural doctors are generally older than urban doctors, and health officials are predicting that the number of rural doctors will decline by 23 percent over the next decade, according to the Post.
The mobile unit will provide space for primary care services, urgent care procedures and preventive screening. Renny Christopher, vice chancellor for academic affairs at WSU Vancouver, said a photographer told her it’s like a “tiny home for medicine.” She said she’s excited about the opportunity for students to train with it.
“It will enable us to extend the reach of our medical students and health practitioners beyond the city, out into the remote areas where there is so much need,” Christopher said.
David Choi, a Washougal native and third-year medical student, is undergoing his medical training in the Vancouver area. He did undergraduate studies at WSU Vancouver and graduated in 2016. Now he’s part of the inaugural medical school class. He said the mobile unit displays how committed the university is to helping underserved communities.
More than 20 percent of the college of medicine is from rural areas, said Ken Roberts, vice dean for academic and community partnerships at the school. Choi said that shows many students have shared experiences with the patients they’re hoping to help.
“One of the best and most supportive ways you can do this is to physically go these areas and understand the health of that region,” Choi said. “This mobile health unit will help us do that and that is a valuable lesson.”
The press conference was held in front of Banner Bank in east Vancouver. The bank is sponsoring tours of the mobile unit across Washington throughout the month.