Johnson secures last-minute amendment for Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

Just hours before the expected adjournment of the 2010 special session, the House of Representatives approved a measure Monday that would allow the establishment of another health sciences and services authority (HSSA) in Eastern Washington. An HSSA provides a funding mechanism to promote bioscience-based economic development and public health programs. Currently, Spokane is the only area of the state with an HSSA.

Since last year, Rep. Norm Johnson has been working to secure a permanent funding source for the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima. The university opened in 2008 to train doctors who can serve rural areas of the state.

During debate on Senate Bill 6727, Johnson offered Amendment 1721 allowing an HSSA to be created in Yakima County that could support the work of the health sciences university.

“Thirty-eight of Washington’s 39 counties are medically underserved and need doctors, especially in rural areas of the state. As more doctors retire, this problem will become worse. That is why it is so important to have a university that prepares doctors to work in our underserved communities,” said Johnson, R-Yakima. “This is the first medical school in the Pacific Northwest in 60 years. An HSSA would allow the school to expand its program so more health care professionals and family practitioners could be trained and sent out into the field.”

Under the bill, when authorized by the local jurisdiction that created the HSSA, the authority may borrow money and incur debt. Monies borrowed by an HSSA must be secured by gifts or grants from public or private sources. The authority may not incur an expense or liability that is the obligation of the state or local governments. All obligations would be required to be paid with HSSA funds.

“It’s important to note the establishment of an HSSA doesn’t involve tax increases. Instead, it relies mostly on private sources. Millions of dollars have already been donated to the university. This legislation gives the school the ability to leverage that money for future expansion,” added Johnson.

Lawmakers in the House approved Johnson’s amendment before voting 71-23 to pass the bill. The measure now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

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Washington State House Republican Communications