WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Representatives Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R‑Wash.) introduced the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act. This bill would provide funding for colleges and universities to make physical therapy, occupational therapy, audiology, and speech-language pathology programs more accessible to underrepresented communities, including those who are racial or ethnic minorities or from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Minorities are significantly underrepresented in the health professional workforce according to a report by the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA). The report stated that over 77% of professionals in the physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology fields are Caucasian. The U.S. Institute of Medicine found that patients have better health outcomes when their doctor is of the same racial or ethnic background, but with so few minorities in these positions, underrepresented communities are not receiving the best health care possible.
Studies have shown that when people from underserved areas go into a medical field, they are far more likely to serve in rural and underserved areas, remain there longer, and have patients who better adhere to medical advice. This means rural and other underserved areas benefit when programs recruit candidates from these areas, not only filling the gaps in service for underserved areas, but also filling gaps in provider shortages.
“African-Americans have, for too long, been underrepresented in the health sector. Less than 5% of physical therapists are African-American and less than 5% of occupational therapists are African-American. That is unacceptable. That is not how America looks,” Rush said. “I am pleased to work with my colleague, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, on this legislation to help minority and underrepresented communities in two very important ways. First, this bill provides pathways to meaningful, high-paying jobs in the health sector, and second, it helps to help expand health professional coverage to communities that need it. By working together, we can make real change for Americans across the country.”
“I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of occupational therapy, speech pathology, and physical therapy in helping people to live more full and independent lives,” said Cathy. “That’s why I’m joining in introducing this bipartisan legislation to encourage a more diverse workforce in these fields. When people from underserved areas go into these fields, they are more likely to serve our rural communities. This bill will help better serve Eastern Washington and the people who rely on these allied health professionals.”
The Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act is modeled after the Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development program that has successfully increased the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities pursue careers in nursing. By providing colleges and universities funding to attract and retain students from underrepresented backgrounds, this legislation will bolster the number of minorities in the health profession workforce and correct the historic underrepresentation in these fields.
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