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CWFM faculty Joel Pearson, left, talks about shoulder exams with residents, from left to right, Kristi Trickett, Irene Varghese and Sheetal Mehndiratta on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, at the CWFM Yakima Clinic in Yakima, Wash. (Evan Abell, Yakima Herald-Republic)

Astria Regional Medical Center will halt funding for the Central Washington Family Medicine Residency Program, at least for the upcoming academic year, reducing the number of people in the incoming class.

The number of Yakima-based residents who will enter the program for upcoming academic year, which starts in June, will drop from eight to five. The number of residents based in Ellensburg will remain at two. The total number of residents in the three-year program will drop from 30 to 27.

Previously, Astria Regional Medical Center and Virginia Mason Memorial spilt the cost of 18 of those residents, The cost for each resident is $170,000 a year.

Astria is “currently in a situation it’s not feasible” to fund residencies, said Mike Maples, CEO of Community Health of Central Washington, or CHCW, which sponsors the residency program.

Astria previously notified CHCW that it would end residency funding, but in December made a verbal commitment to keep funding residents after having several conversations with CHCW officials.

Neither would comment on why Astria decided to again stop funding for the coming year.

“At this time, the most equitable and sustainable path forward for both organizations is to loan the hospital’s residency slots to a collaborating institution and continue discussions with CHCW into the next academic year,” said Jeff Egbert, interim CEO for Astria Regional Medical Center.

What that means is that starting April 1, all hospital-funded residents, including those previously funded by Astria, will exclusively provide services at Virginia Mason Memorial and its clinics.

Both hospitals previously received payment for each Medicare and Medicaid patient that was to be used on residencies. The hospitals also receive funding for the time residents spend in the hospitals and hospital-owned clinics. Those funds are passed through to the residency program.

As the amount of time residents spend at Memorial and its clinics will increase, so would the amount of federal funding it will get for residency education. That is expected to help cover the cost of second- and third-year hospital-funded residents.

Community Health of Central Washington has, in the past, covered additional costs when there was a shortfall in funding, Maples said.

“If the available funding doesn’t cover the cost, it will be up to CHCW and its board to consider covering those losses,” he said.

Through the residency program, recent medical school graduates receive additional education and gain experience in Ellensburg and Yakima.

With fewer residents coming in, primary care for Yakima Valley residents will be impacted. CHCW officials previously said that residents see patients for about a third of all visits at Central Washington Family Medicine’s residency clinics in Yakima and Ellensburg – nearly 21,000 out of 63,000 visits annually. Hospital-funded residents also work alongside family medicine providers and specialists at Astria and Virginia Mason as well as clinics owned by the two hospital systems.

Both Astria and CHCW said there’s a possibility that the hospital will resume involvement in the future, especially as conversations between the two parties continue.

“Where it’s feasible, they could enter graduate medical education again,” Maples said.