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Astria Regional Medical Center. (SHAWN GUST/Yakima Herald-Republic file)

Astria Regional Medical Center will continue funding the Central Washington Family Medicine Residency Program.

The decision came nearly two months after the Yakima hospital sent a letter to residency program officials saying it planned to end funding for residencies as of June 30.

“After further conversations with the CWFM regarding (its) residency program, we have decided the relationship is beneficial to both organizations and to the community,” said Dawn O’Polka, spokeswoman for Astria Health, parent company to Astria Regional Medical Center, in an emailed statement Tuesday.

The hospital expressed a verbal commitment to the program on Nov. 30 and will send a letter rescinding the previous notice, said Mike Maples, CEO of the Community Health of Central Washington, which sponsors the program.

Astria Regional Medical Center and Virginia Mason Memorial hospital have been splitting the cost of 18 of the program’s 30 residency positions. The cost to fund each resident is $170,000 a year.

Residents provide patient care at Central Washington Family Medicine residency clinics in Yakima and Ellensburg. As part of the program’s relationship with Astria Regional and Virginia Mason Memorial, residents also work alongside family medicine providers and specialists at the two hospitals and at clinics owned by the two hospitals’ parent companies.

The CWFM residency program can now proceed in recruiting candidates for the next class, a process that will start next month. The three-year program, in any given year, receives hundreds of applicants for 10 open spots.

Had Astria withdrawn funding, CWFM would reduce the number of annual recruits from 10 to seven. Within three years, the program would have gone from 30 residents to 21.

The lifetime retention rate for the residents who go on to private practice in the Yakima area is about 80 percent, according to figures previously reported in the Yakima Herald-Republic. Overall, a quarter of residents end up staying in the Yakima and Ellensburg areas.

“When we look at the need for family doctors, keeping those training positions going is vital is for the future access to care,” said Russell Maier, director of the Central Washington Family Medicine Residency Program.

The hospitals receive a payment for each Medicare and Medicaid patient to cover 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.

“The reality is that the residency does bring in what it costs through the Medicaid and Medicare dollars (to the hospitals),” Maier said.