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Illinois lawmakers could pass plan to diversify health care workforce

Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) presents a bill to help diversify the health care workforce in...
Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) presents a bill to help diversify the health care workforce in Illinois.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Mar. 22, 2022 at 8:22 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - A proposal in Springfield could help make the health care workforce in Illinois more diverse.

The legislation references a 2021 study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the National Institutes of Health. Experts at the Center looked into minority representation across 10 different health care provider designations and found significant underrepresentation among Black, Hispanic, and Native American people across each of the designations.

“This study makes specific mention of the disproportionate impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on minority communities and how greater diversity in hour health care workforce could lead to increased cultural competence and improved health outcomes,” the bill states.

Sponsors argue something must be done to address the historic and systemic barriers that continue to prevent representation by race, language, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status in health care.

House Bill 4645 would prioritize scholarship and loan repayment programs to help people from underrepresented communities pursue health care careers.

“This bill also supports recruitment and retention of a health care workforce that better reflects, represents, and understands the patients that they are serving and community-based providers that serve a high proportion of Medicaid and uninsured patients,” said Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago).

Amber Kirchoff spoke in support of the bill Tuesday afternoon on behalf of the Illinois Primary Health Care Association. Kirchoff noted that the bill had already passed unanimously out of the House this session. She also said that advocates worked with sponsors to model this program off of similar loan repayment plans her association provides.

“Similar to the student loan repayment program, for the scholarship, it would be in exchange for service in an underrepresented community. There would be a term of service in those areas associated with that,” Kirchoff said. “The specific amount per year that they would be eligible for in either the loan repayment or the scholarship would be up for us to decide with the department once we know what the appropriation will be.”

Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Cherry Valley) asked Kirchoff if people would not be eligible for this program if they already received financial assistance from another loan repayment program. While Kirchoff couldn’t provide that information during committee, she noted that members will have that answer before the full Senate votes on the bill.

“I want to make sure that that is clear and specifically spelled out in there that a person could not qualify,” Syverson said. “Or if they have qualified for one of the other programs out there that they could not qualify for a second bite at the apple.”

The Equity and Representation in Health Care Act passed unanimously out of the Senate Health Care Access & Availability Committee. This plan now heads to the Senate floor for consideration. If approved, the bill would quickly move back to the House for concurrence on an amendment to the bill made in the Senate.

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