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After losing town doctor, Fairfield, surrounding communities are being served by a mobile clinic

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Rebecca White / SPR
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Fairfield Mayor Jamie Paden receives a shot from Dr. Jaime Bowman, a provider at the Range Mobile Clinic, during the health clinic's bus's August 11 visit.

A critical shortage of primary care doctors in Washington and Idaho is especially felt in Fairfield, a farming town about 40 minutes south of Spokane. Neither Fairfield, or any of the surrounding rural communities, has a permanent doctor.

Fairfield Mayor Jamie Paden says that’s led to delayed care, or even no care, for many of the town’s residents. Paden is also an EMT. She says she’s responded to 9-1-1 calls that could easily have been resolved by a doctor.

“They have the ability to drive their car locally, but not so much to drive their car into Spokane, or Whitman County,” she said, “So now they have to call 911, which in turn if your transporting someone, that's putting a potential strain, what if you have a horrible farming accident, now you have someone that's out of service because its transporting someone and you don't have your ambulance to go on that call.”

Paden says providers at a new mobile clinic, called Range, have brought some relief. The clinic, a Washington State University project, sends a bus to Fairfield twice a month to provide care ranging from vaccinations to treating ear infections.

Paden was the first patient of the day, and I spoke to her after she received a tetanus shot at the clinic.

Range’s operations director, Keli Riley, says the project is a chance for nursing, pharmacy and medical students to gain real-world experience. She says the community’s positive response also reflects the need for the mobile clinic.

“They've come as far as Idaho across the border to see us,” she said, “So, yes, we know as we expand and we keep coming continuously that we'll grow the practice here.”

When I visited the clinic, I met patients that had traveled from Spangle to see a doctor. Mother Tami DeLaunay brought her children, who hope to play football and volleyball this year, in for a physical.

“It is very helpful, it helps us again be able to get in in time, Miles' sports start on the 17th, practice, so he has to have that physical done,” she said.

DeLauney says if her family had waited for a provider in Spokane to be available, her son and daughter would likely miss the beginning of the season.

According to the National Rural Healthcare Association, people in rural communities are significantly less likely to have access to a physician than people in urban areas. They’re also more likely to say they are in poor health, and to engage in some risk factors, like using tobacco.

In addition to families, the Range mobile clinic has started visiting the Assisted Living Facility in Fairfield as well as other rural communities in southeast Spokane County.

Riley says she hopes to set up a permanent Range Clinic in Fairfield, featuring regular on-site visits from their providers and telehealth stations. She says Range is also providing referrals to low-cost clinics in Spokane.

Riley says even if Range sets up a permanent site in Fairfield, they would still like to serve other rural communities in eastern Washington with the mobile clinic.

“Our goal is to go out to places, and sometimes people are a little hesitant,” she said, “so we try to find a community partner, so if there's communities who are still kind of looking, I hope that they'll contact us.”