The COVID-19 pandemic and the need to establish a new clinic were among the reasons why Pullman Regional Hospital and Washington State University pushed back Pullman’s new family medicine residency program to 2023.

The hospital originally planned to welcome residents into its three-year program in summer 2022, but program director Dr. Stephen Hall announced last month that it will be delayed another year.

One of the factors that led to Hall’s decision is the 75 percent drop in Pullman Regional Hospital’s pediatric admissions from 2019 to 2020.

Hall said Thursday that staff wanted to see those numbers rebound so the residents would have enough patients to work with.

“It just felt like we need to wait and see where things kind of level out before we bring residents to train in this environment to make sure that we can give them the experience that they need,” he said.

He said this drop in admissions was likely caused by COVID-19 forcing children to do their schooling at home, thus avoiding the respiratory illnesses that usually break out in schools in the fall and spring. They were also avoiding illness by washing their hands diligently.

Hall also said the hospital wanted to have time to construct and start operating a new clinic, which is a requirement for the residency program’s accreditation.

Hospital staff will begin seeing patients in that clinic well before residents arrive.

“There will be patients from our current practices that we’ll bring over here and start testing out the flow of patients,” he said.

Furthermore, Hall said he preferred to wait until resident recruitment activities could take place in person again.

Because of COVID-19, this year’s recruitment activities will be fully virtual. Hall said virtual recruitment does not allow the residents to get a full picture of what the Palouse is truly like.

“We really feel that in order for someone to know what they’re getting into, we’d really like them to physically be here and come and see it,” he said.

He said it is common for residency programs to experience delays, and he does not want the public to assume there is a problem.

Hall said the extra year of preparation will only benefit the residents who come to PRH.

“Starting in 2023, that gives us time to polish up the procedures and protocols,” he said. “So, it gives us more time to think and to plan and to have a better experience for the residents when they first get here.”

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.

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