New Legislation EMPOWER-ing OTs

Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act to provide grants for underrepresented groups

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.

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

You can follow the bill’s progress at AOTA’s Legislative Action Center

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