Here in Maine, we know all too well the effect that the opioid crisis is having on our neighbors and loved ones. Because we live in one of the top 10 states most affected by this crisis as of 2017, rooting out the causes of this scourge is of the utmost importance for Mainers. While in many cases opioids may be medically necessary for patients, in many cases there are healthier alternatives such as physical therapy available for patients to try before they go the pharmaceutical route.

As a physical therapist myself, I have witnessed firsthand the positive impacts of physical therapy on patients without exposing them to the dangers of being prescribed addictive opioids.

While it is a good sign that more and more Americans are turning to physical therapy for pain relief and recovery, this is creating stress on the existing physical therapy workforce, which is grappling with a surge in patients seeking treatment. To underscore this dynamic, estimates suggest by 2025 the physical therapy workforce will face a shortfall of an estimated 27,000 physical therapists. This problem is made even more severe by the fact the most underserved populations, primarily located in rural areas, are in the greatest need of physical therapy professionals.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer

This trend threatens to severely undermine access to physical therapy services and business growth across Maine, considered one of the nation’s most rural states.

Luckily, lawmakers in Washington have taken notice of this looming crisis. With the leadership of Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, the bipartisan Physical Therapist Workforce and Patient Access Act of 2019 (S.970) has been introduced in Congress to help address this coming workforce shortage.

Under the Physical Therapist Workforce and Patient Access Act, physical therapists would be allowed to take advantage of the National Health Service Corps student loan repayment program. This is significant. By offering student loan repayments to physical therapists who serve in medically underserved or designated health care professional shortage areas, the bill would help make becoming a physical therapist more accessible for people. Further, it would encourage more businesses to open up physical therapy centers in rural and underserved areas by ensuring that trained professionals want to work in those markets.

This increase in accessibility to the profession of physical therapy is a crucial step in providing alternative treatments and ending the deadly overreliance on prescription opioids.

I commend Sen. King for co-sponsoring this bipartisan, pro-patient and pro-business bill. If this legislation isn’t passed, our profession will be inundated to the point where effective and accessible care is unavailable for our rural and vulnerable communities. I call on Sen. King’s colleague in the Senate, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and the rest of the Maine congressional delegation to support this critical legislation. We must prioritize alternative methods of care so that we turn back the tide of the opioid crisis that has swept across Maine while also providing growth opportunities for professionals across our state.

 


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