All health starts with oral health & addressing our workforce needs

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The last few weeks have been very busy in the Health Care & Wellness Committee, with hearings on bills ranging from telemedicine to health care affordability. We passed my proposal to protect health care providers who provide reproductive care (HB 1340) and heard testimony on a proposal that addresses health care affordability for people in our state on Medicare (HB 1313).

Oral Health Care: What I’m doing to expand access

All health starts with oral health and ensuring that families in Washington state have access to appropriate dental health care is a top priority of mine. Right now, there’s a serious shortage of dental health care workers and a lack of access across the state, particularly in rural and underserved communities.

The Health Care & Wellness Committee held a work session on the state of oral health in Washington and it had some stark data. Children with tooth decay are often unable to focus in school, a quarter of adults in the state have had job interviews impacted due to their oral health, and older adults with tooth loss struggle to maintain a healthy diet. We’ve made progress to address untreated decay, but not enough.

This year, I proposed several bills to address the shortage in dental workers. I want to highlight one, HB 1678, which allows dental therapy in the state of Washington in certain limited settings. A dental therapist works with a supervising dentist to provide fillings and preventive services and can provide emergency services such as adult teeth extraction if a dentist agrees it is the right course of action. Dental therapists go through a two-year educational and clinical program and have at least 400 hours of supervision with a licensed dentist. Right now, dental therapy is only allowed on tribal lands. My bill would allow the Department of Health to issue licenses to someone who has completed their required dental therapist program and passes the appropriate exam in community health clinics. Getting dental therapists out into communities for this type of preventive care will go a long way to improving overall dental health through the course of a life.

Addressing our workforce needs

Getting qualified workers into important jobs continues to be a problem. We have identified the three major issues that are stopping us from getting people into these roles: the streamline, the pipeline, and the bottom line.

Much of the work we are doing this year in Olympia is focusing on those three issues. In a worker shortage, getting rid of red tape or unnecessary barriers can help streamline people from training to career. When students are considering their career, or workers are interested in making a change, lawmakers need to expand the pipeline that lets those people pursue the next step in their career path. And the bottom line is that workers need a fair wage to thrive and investing in those people will keep them in their jobs instead of looking for a new line of work or moving out of state.

I’ve introduced two new bills that will help with expanding the pipeline and getting more qualified workers into their fields. HB 1643 creates the hospital-based nurse student loan repayment program. It’s simple: nurses who serve the state by working in state hospitals for a certain number of years will have their loans paid off in part or in full, depending on their service. We can never have enough nurses, but the financial commitment can hold some people back. Let’s get more nurses in our hospitals and make this critical investment in our nursing pipeline.

Another bill I introduced expands apprenticeship utilization requirements so that more skilled trade worker apprentices are getting the paid, on-the-job training they need to receive their professional credential (HB 1050). The bill says that a municipality that awards a public works contract that is over $1 million must use apprentices for at least 15 percent of the hours for the project. Getting apprentices more opportunities to earn their hours and harness their trade will result in more skilled trade workers available in the workforce.

Excellent testimony and a good visit from some great kids!

Hugo and his friends came to Olympia this week to testify in front of the Appropriations Committee on a bill that would require insurance to cover hearing instruments. Children like Hugo would benefit from this bill because these devices can be expensive and families without the means are unable to get their kids the necessary devices to ensure they have that communication option available to them.

This was one of the only times I have seen the Appropriations Committee take public testimony and then vote a bill out of committee on the same day. I credit Hugo for his excellent testimony and for winning over my colleagues with his passion for this issue. I was proud to vote for the bill in both the Health Care & Wellness Committee, which I Chair, and again this week in the Appropriations Committee.

It is my honor to serve you!





Rep. Marcus Riccelli