HCN News & Notes

Legislation Introduced to Promote Workforce Diversity in Allied Health Professions

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) recently introduced the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act (H.R. 3637) in the U.S. House of Representatives. This legislation would 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.

“African-Americans have, for too long, been underrepresented in the health sector, making up less than 5% of physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists. That is unacceptable, as it is not how America looks. The U.S. Institute of Medicine has found evidence that patients have better health outcomes when the doctor and patient are the same race or ethnicity,” Rush said. “I am pleased to work on this legislation to help minority and underrepresented communities to provide pathways to meaningful, high-paying jobs in the health sector and to help expand health professional coverage to communities that need it. By working together, we can make real change for Americans across the country and affirm our commitment to allow everyone the opportunity to achieve the American dream.”

Added Rodgers, “I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of occupational therapy, speech pathology, audiology, and physical therapy in helping people to live more full and independent lives. 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.”

Of the approximately 336,500 physical therapists and physical therapist assistants currently in the U.S., only 18.3%, are considered racial or ethnic minorities.

“The ability for an occupational-therapy client to identify culturally with their occupational-therapy practitioner enhances the therapist-client experience,” said Wendy Hildenbrand, president of the American Occupational Therapy Assoc. “This legislation would provide new professional opportunities for individuals whose backgrounds are currently underrepresented in the occupational-therapy workforce. Having a more diverse workforce builds capacity for occupational-therapy professionals to better address the health needs of all Americans.”