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UWSOP Dean Sean Sullivan meets with Washington State Senate Committee to discuss health care workforce challenges

Representing UW Health Sciences, UWSOP Dean Sean Sullivan spoke this week with the Washington State Senate Committee to discuss the state’s health care workforce pipeline.

Sullivan shared with the committee the UW’s plans to partner with the State to build a new Interprofessional education (IPE) learning facility. The $100 million project, which is expected to meet completion in 2022-2023, will serve as a cutting-edge training hub for the six UW Health Sciences schools that train nearly 6,000 professional degree students and residents (post-graduate, specialty training) and 3,400 graduate students.

“In all cases, our professional degree students train with each other in IPE settings,” Sullivan noted. “Because of the importance of this project, the UW and the Deans are adding an additional $30 million to the effort to create a state-of-the-art training space – providing interprofessional digital and virtual simulation and other technology-enhanced learning.”

Sullivan added that although there is a shortage of health professionals in the behavioral health sciences – and the six UW Deans are committed to increasing the supply of these providers for Washington state – health care workforce gaps won’t be solved by simply producing more health care professionals. He provided two examples illustrating the importance of regulatory/reimbursement reform and innovation as effective combatants against these challenges:

Low Vaccination Rates

Twenty years ago, faculty from the UW School of Pharmacy working with Washington state DOH, King County Public Health and the CDC created the legal and regulatory framework necessary for pharmacists to provide vaccinations in community and clinic-based pharmacies.

“This was not possible or allowed prior,” Sullivan noted. “Now, in every state, vaccinations are available in community pharmacies. The consequence of this is that vaccination rates have doubled in some areas of the country principally because of better access. When the COVID vaccine becomes available, rapid access to this vaccine will very likely flow primarily through pharmacies where there is much better access for our urban and rural communities.”

COVID dramatically reduced access to care amongst non-COVID patients

“I feel certain that analyses will ultimately show large and negative impacts of reduced access on health outcomes of non-COVID patients,” said Sullivan. “Tele-health, once reserved for connecting patients in rural communities to providers in urban settings, is now – because of COVID – commonplace for primary and specialty care, social work and mental health visits, physical therapy, pharmacy and medication consults, follow-up consultations in dentistry, nursing, etc.”

Sullivan noted that although professional inertia and inadequate reimbursement kept this technology from broader use, the COVID pandemic has shown that institutions can use tele-health in much more broad and creative ways, expanding access to patients simply by using our laptops, pads and phones.

“I would encourage this committee to think broadly about possible regulatory and reimbursement reform,” he said, “and encouraging and stimulating innovative health and digital technology solutions as an added opportunity to address population health and workforce gaps.”

Watch the entire TVW broadcast from July 16, 2020: