Senators Introduce Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act

On the heels of unanimous passage in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday evening as part of the Educating Medical Professionals and Optimizing Workforce Efficiency and Readiness (EMPOWER) for Health Act of 2019 (H.R. 2781)., the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act (H.R. 3637) continued its momentum on Wednesday night with introduction in the Senate as S. 2747.

The bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). As with the House version, the intention of the Senate’s companion bill is to create legislation to provide grants to increase opportunities for individuals who are from underrepresented backgrounds, including students from racial and ethnic minorities, in the professions of occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language pathology, and audiology.

In July, U.S. Representatives Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced H.R. 3637 in the House of Representatives. It was added to H.R. 2781 soon after introduction.

“AOTA is grateful for the numerous supporters of this bill and their shared commitment to a more diverse workforce, especially Representatives Rush and McMorris Rodgers, and Senators Casey and Murkowski,” said Wendy C. Hildenbrand, PhD, MPH, OTR/L, FAOTA, President of AOTA. “As our nation grows in diversity, so should our occupational therapy workforce in order to maximize the potential of each and every client we serve.”

If passed, the legislation would create a grant program to recruit a more diverse body of professionals in the allied health fields, including occupational therapy.

“Having a diverse, abundant and well-trained health care workforce is essential to improving quality of care,” said Senator Casey. “In order to ensure our health care delivery system is successful, we must make allied health training programs as successful as possible. A characteristic of a successful program is a diverse student body. This is why I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation which will work towards creating a truly diverse field of allied health professionals.”

Senator Murkowski echoed his statement.

“As the nation struggles with health care provider shortages, perhaps no one feels that more than rural areas such as Alaska. Across our state, our communities could benefit from a more robust workforce, particularly in fields such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech language pathology, and audiology,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’ve been working hard to move legislation that will improve the quality and availability of health care, including bills to improve recruitment and retention of health care professionals. Building on those efforts, I’m proud to lead this bill that will afford more Alaskans a greater opportunity to pursue these valuable careers and to bring that knowledge back to their communities.”

According to AOTA’s 2015 Salary & Workforce Survey, the percentage of occupational therapy practitioners identifying themselves as African American or black is 3.1%, and those identifying as Hispanic or Latino is 3.2%. Only 1.4% identify as multiethnic.

AOTA, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), and the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) are working together to help advance this legislation, and are committed champions to a more diverse and inclusive workforce among the allied health professions.