Bipartisan legislation would provide funding to help recruit more people of color and others into therapy programs, jobs.
A bipartisan bill that would make the field of allied health workers more representative of the populations they serve was introduced in the Senate last week. Sponsored by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act would create a $5 million-per-year grant program to recruit a more diverse body of professionals in the allied health field, including occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists.
“Having a diverse, abundant, and well-trained healthcare workforce is essential to improving quality of care,” said Sen. Casey. “In order to ensure our healthcare 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.” Sen. Murkowski added, “As the nation struggles with healthcare provider shortages, perhaps no one feels that more than rural areas….” She suggested that many suburban and rural communities could benefit from a “more robust workforce,” especially in the therapy fields.
There are additional benefits to a more diverse therapy workforce. For instance, the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) found that patients who receive treatment from professionals of similar ethnic background often trust their therapists more and are more likely to follow through on their treatment. IOM also suggests the need for healthcare organizations to mitigate the effect of implicit bias in all interactions and at all points of contact with patients. A more diverse workforce is one way to help identify and address biases.
Currently, the therapy field is lacking in diversity. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), 92% of occupational therapists identify as Caucasian; only 3.1% identify as African-American, and 3.2% as Hispanic. In addition to the lack of ethnic diversity in these professions, the number of practicing professionals with disabilities is less than 5%.
The Senate bill is time-limited and provides grants to eligible universities and other programs for a total of five years. There is a companion bill the U.S. House of Representatives. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced that legislation (H.R.3637) this past summer.