On Thursday, the Oregon House approved legislation that will pave the way to make occupational therapy more accessible to Oregonians in underserved communities. Proponents of the legislation, including Rep. Greg Barreto, said HB 2751 would incentivize occupational therapists to practice in rural communities by allowing them to participate in Oregon’s primary care loan repayment program.

“Oregon’s rural communities are facing a shortage of occupational therapist practitioners,” said Rep. Barreto, who chief sponsored the legislation. “By adding occupational therapists to the list qualified practices under the state’s primary care loan repayment program, we have an opportunity to take a step toward mitigating this shortage by providing incentives to therapists who choose to practice in underserved communities.”

Occupational therapists provide a wide range of treatments to patients with a number of different diagnoses. According to testimony provided by the Occupational Therapy Association of Oregon (OTAO), “occupational therapists are skilled in working with clients experiencing a variety of conditions, including (but not limited to): stroke, dementia, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, lifestyle related chronic conditions, cancer, post-operative treatment” and more. Occupational therapy has proven to be an effective means for reducing hospital readmission rates and reducing long term medical costs.

By including occupational therapy as a qualified practice under the Oregon Partnership State Loan Repayment (SLRP) Program, occupational therapists who practice in rural communities will have an opportunity to apply for loan payment relief from the state of Oregon. Advocates are optimistic this will lead to an increase in the number of occupational therapists working in underserved communities around the state.

“Including occupational therapy in Oregon’s primary care loan repayment program is a commonsense way for us to try and bring more practitioners to our rural communities and improve the lives of countless Oregonians in the process,” concluded Rep. Barreto.

HB 2751 passed the House by a vote of 55-0. The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.