Cultural Competency Training Compromise Likely to Become Law

Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer forged a bill to allow cultural competency as part of education requirements of the state medical boards, earning the support of both the Urban League and Republicans.


April 5, 2013 — Oregon took a step toward acknowledging its increasing racial diversity when the House Health Committee passed a cultural competency bill for medical professionals that heads to the House floor next week.

The committee voted 8-1 to allow the state’s medical licensing boards to require cultural competency courses for continuing education that health professionals must take to remain licensed.

A separate amendment allows the state’s community colleges and universities to require cultural competency training for those who work on campus clinics.

“We think it’s a big deal,” said Ron Williams, director of the social justice group Oregon Action. “It really speaks volumes that three of the four Republicans supported it. … We think it will pass the House and move onto the Senate.”

House Bill 2611 has been a major priority of the Latino Health Coalition and the Urban League of Portland, the civil rights organization that advocates for black Americans. A similar bill passed the Senate in 2011 only to die on the House floor in a vote split on party lines in the divided chamber.

Cultural competency gives healthcare providers the opportunity to consider the patient’s culture when treating them or advising them on healthy lifestyles. The goal is to break down barriers created by language or world view as well as to recognize conditions that may have different meanings to ethnic groups.

“They gain a better practice. They provide better care,” Williams said. “They become more aware of the needs of the community.”

Advocates also say cultural competency also reduces costs over the long-term, but Republicans such as Rep. Bill Kennemer, R-Oregon City, were worried about the upfront costs of mandating the training for all healthcare professionals.

“This was a bill that affected 140,000 professionals,” Kennemer said. “I find the idea of making it mandatory very objectionable.”

Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, introduced an amendment to the bill that shifts the focus to the discretion of the state medical boards and allows it to be built into their continuing education requirements, gaining Kennemer’s support.

The sole opponent was Rep. Jim Weidner, R-McMinnville, who noted his Hispanic relatives have not had any problems with the current healthcare system. “When we start dictating how hospitals need to act — I don’t think that’s where government ought to be.”

Cultural competency training for health professionals is already the law of the land in six states including Washington and California, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Five other states, as diverse as New York, Ohio, Georgia and Arizona are currently considering adopting the practice.

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