With the unveiling of its new Mobile Health Care Unit, Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine says this is just the first in what is envisioned to be a fleet of traveling clinics that would roam rural Washington.

School officials said the unit will be a part of the recently launched Range Health, a nonprofit academic health network founded by and partnered with the College of Medicine and WSU.

College of Medicine Spokeswoman Christina VerHeul said the project has been an institutional goal since at least 2015. But the first unit only became possible in the last 18 months thanks to an endowment from Othello man William A. Crosetto, for whom the first unit was named.

“He was a cattle rancher in Othello and had a real passion for a lot of things — one of them being rural health care and making sure that his rural community was taken care of,” VerHeul said. “He left a very generous $1 million gift to us in order to build a mobile medical unit and so this very first one that we rolled out on Oct. 9 is named after him.”

VerHeul said this first unit will focus on general primary care, urgent care and preventative screening for conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, among many others. She said the vehicle will feature two exam rooms and an intake space where lab work can be done on-site. She said future units could be specialized to serve specific community needs identified by the college, and could include spaces for other health resources like dental or imaging services.

While strategies for how these units will be deployed are still being refined, VerHeul said it would likely be a combination of scheduled stops and furnishing requested visits in rural communities. She said each unit will be staffed by medical students with the supervision of a practicing physician and will also present opportunities to other medical professionals in training like pharmaceutical and nursing students.

“Really, the vision for this is for it to be training ground for our students, as well as additional clinical hours for our physicians,” VerHeul said. “Often many of (our physicians) do not work for the College of Medicine full-time, they do work for 70 or 80 percent, but they’re still probably practicing in the community.”

College of Medicine Chief Operating Officer Jim Zimmerman, who currently occupies several leadership roles in Range Health, said this first unit is only the beginning. He said Range Health has already budgeted for another unit and the overarching goal is to have a “fleet” of mobile clinics servicing each of the 39 counties in the state. He said the program is part of a larger, decadeslong trend of moving medical care out of the hospital.

“It’s a very effective and diverse way of delivering care where people are, which I think is one of the mega-trends in the health care industry,” Zimmerman said. “A lot less care is being provided in hospitals and bricks and mortar units and more and more care being delivered in communities and in the home.”

The first mobile medical unit is expected to begin serving patients in the early months of 2020.

Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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