A new bill in Oregon is asking the state's legislature to designate $20 million in funding to help alleviate the state's dental teams staffing shortage.
Oregon House Bill 2979 and its companion, Senate Bill 441, were introduced in January. If passed, the legislation would designate $20 million to invest in education, training and incentive programs to increase recruitment and retention of dental support staff.
Increasing the state’s dental workforce has been a concern of the Oregon Dental Association for years — dating back to before the COVID-19 pandemic. It became a top priority after the Oregon Employment Department identified dental assisting as one of the most challenging roles to fill among vacant health care jobs, and data from the Oregon Health Authority’s 2021 Health Care Workforce Report found that 9% of Oregon’s dental assistant positions were vacant.
“The dental staffing crisis was clearly reaching a tipping point,” said ODA President Mark Miller, D.M.D. “We knew we needed to take action to reverse the crisis and protect access to oral health care across Oregon.”
“We recognized the urgency of the situation and made the dental workforce shortage a top priority,” added Barry Taylor, D.M.D., ODA executive director. “The result was this legislation, which is a workforce funding package that targets recruitment, training programs and incentives to expand dental career pipeline opportunities and improve access to oral health care.”
The ODA hopes the legislation, if passed, will help local businesses and create career opportunities, especially for minority and underrepresented Oregonians. The association also hopes it will improve access to oral health care, particularly for communities that were the hardest hit by health care workforce shortages.
According to ODA, Association members developed the components of the legislation through extensive committee work. ODA’s Board of Trustees recognized the deep staffing concerns membership felt statewide and dedicated resources to exploring the problem and potential solutions. ODA’s Regulatory Affairs Council members discussed the workforce shortage with partners, heard suggestions and ideas, and directed the development of the package.
The $20 million would go toward the following:
• Community college dental assisting and hygiene programs. These programs would receive $5 million to increase enrollment, support recruitment and retention of instructors and provide scholarships for students from diverse populations.
• High school health professional programs. This would allocate $5 million to support the expansion of K-12 health professional career and technical education in Oregon high schools, increasing the pipeline of future dental assistants and hygienists.
• Workforce development incentives. For this program, $7 million would be allocated to the Oregon Health Authority to expand Oregon’s Health Care Provider Incentive Programs to include all oral health professionals working in priority communities to increase access to care for tribal, rural, low-income, and other underserved populations. The funds would also support the recruitment and retention of critically needed dental care providers.
• Tribal dental professions education. This would designate $1 million to establish a dental professions education program to support the administration of programs for tribal youth to learn about and become interested in dental professions.
• Dental assisting training module development. This would allocate $2 million to help create a chairside dental assisting training tool kit to be made available to all providers across the state.
Chief sponsors of the legislation include Oregon Reps. Cyrus Javadi, D.D.S., and Hai Pham, D.M.D., and Sen. Cedric Hayden, D.M.D.
For more information, visit OregonDental.Org.