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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC




S. 605. A bill to amend the Public Health Service Act to promote and improve the allied health professions; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, early in the 109th Congress I introduced a bill to address the troubling shortage of allied health professionals in our country. Sadly, we were unable to act on this bill despite continuing deficiencies in the health care workforce. That is why, today, I am reintroducing the Allied Health Reinvestment Act, along with my good colleagues, Senators BINGAMAN, BOXER, KENNEDY, LANDRIEU, LIEBERMAN, LINCOLN, MIKULSKI, and MURRAY.

Allied health professionals constitute roughly one third of the American healthcare workforce. These individuals take x-rays, perform lab tests, and provide emergency services. They help rehabilitate the injured, manage health records, and ensure patients are eating right. Allied health professionals are responsible for a critical and diverse array of functions, working with doctors and nurses to keep patients healthy.

The allied health professions recognized in this bill include professionals in the areas of: dental hygiene, dietetics/nutrition, emergency medical services, health information management, clinical laboratory sciences/medical technology, cytotechnology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, radiologic technology, nuclear medical technology, rehabilitation counseling, respiratory therapy, and speech language-pathology/audiology. This is by no means a complete list of allied health professions, which is why the Secretary of Health and Human Services will have the authority to determine additional professions that can benefit.

Today, many allied health professions suffer from existing workforce shortages. The American Hospital Association (AHA) reports vacancy rates of 18 percent for radiology technicians, 15.3 percent for imaging technicians, and 12.7 percent for pharmacy technicians. In my State alone, the Washington State Hospital Association reports vacancy rates of 14.3 percent for ultrasound technologists, 11.3 percent for radiology technicians, and 10.9 percent for nuclear medicine technologists.

These shortages have real consequences for patients, often extending wait times for important test results or routine examinations. Every time I meet with hospital officials in my State, I always learn how patient care is hurt by the lack of available healthcare workers.

Enrollment figures in allied health education programs suggest we will not have the individuals available to meet the challenges created by existing shortages. The Association of Schools of Allied Health Professionals (ASAHP) reports in a 2006 survey of 87 member institutions that enrollment for a number of allied health programs have not reached capacity for the seventh straight year. The Institutional Profile Survey, which the ASAHP conducts every year, shows under-enrollment by 55 percent in dietetics, 54 percent in health administration, 49 percent in rehabilitation counseling, 43 percent in health information management, 38 percent in speech language pathology/audiology, 33 percent in emergency medical sciences, 26 percent in nuclear medicine technology, 25 percent in clinical laboratory sciences/medical technology, and 20 percent in cytotechnology.

These rates cannot continue. On top of existing workforce shortages, our health system faces a growing senior population, a group that typically requires more care. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the section of our population age 65 and over will begin to rapidly increase in 2011 when the first of the baby boom generation reaches age 65. This increase will create greater demand on all sectors of the healthcare workforce.

The bill my colleagues and I introduce today, like the Nurse Reinvestment Act in the 107th Congress, intends to provide incentives for individuals to seek and complete high-quality allied health education and training.

The bill offers allied health education, practice, and retention grants. Education grants will be used to expand enrollment in allied health education programs, especially by underrepresented racial and ethnic minority students, and provide educational opportunities through new technologies and methods, including distance-learning. Practice grants will establish or expand allied health practice arrangements in non-institutional settings to demonstrate methods that will improve access to primary health care in rural areas and other medically underserved communities. Retention grants will promote career advancement for allied health personnel.

Grants will also be made available for health care facilities to enable them to carry out demonstrations of models and best practices in allied health for the purpose of developing innovative strategies or approaches for retention of allied health professionals. These grants will be awarded in a variety of geographic regions to a range of different types of facilities, including those in rural, urban, and suburban areas.

Furthermore, this bill will give the Secretary of HHS, acting through the Administrator of HRSA, the authority to enter into an agreement with any institution that offers an eligible allied health education program to establish and operate a faculty loan fund to increase the number of qualified allied health faculty. Loans may be granted to faculty pursuing a full-time course of study or, at the discretion of the Secretary, a part-time course of study in an advanced degree program.

Finally, the Allied Health Reinvestment Act will establish a scholarship program modeled after the National Health Service Corps that provides scholarships to individuals seeking allied health education in exchange for service by those individuals in rural and other medically underserved areas.

The Allied Health Reinvestment Act represents a serious commitment on our part to confront a problem that will only grow more serious in the future. Our system of care cannot operate without the dedicated allied health professionals working today, and we must take the actions necessary to ensure that there is a strong workforce that can serve in the future.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

S. 605


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