The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration recently awarded $2.5 million to Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Allied Health Professions’ Virginia Center on Aging to fund initiatives that introduce geriatric health care into primary care settings.
VCoA directs the Virginia Geriatric Education Center, a consortium of VCU, the University of Virginia, and Eastern Virginia Medical School. The funds will be used to improve the health and well-being of elders statewide, with a focus on regions that are medically underserved or face a shortage of health professionals.
The VGEC started in July 2010 with a $2.2 million HRSA grant meant to address the simultaneous aging of Virginia’s population and the shortage of health care professionals who are trained in geriatrics.
The current grant supports interprofessional geriatrics training for aspiring and practicing professionals with a focus on dementia care and falls prevention. Trainees include professional health care providers, residents, interns, students, academic faculty members, direct care workers, older adults and their families and caregivers.
The project staff includes faculty and staff from VCU’s Schools of Allied Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing
“The whole thrust of human development is that people become less like each other and more like only themselves as they age,” said Edward Ansello, Ph.D., VCoA director. “This individuality means that older adults present the greatest variabilities and complexities to health care providers. To provide the best geriatrics care requires a comprehensive team approach involving other disciplines.”
The project includes a 200-hour statewide faculty development program for health care professionals with academic appointments. Selected scholars attend 10 monthly seminars, including three weekend retreats, from September to June at the VCoA and elsewhere in the commonwealth. The additional grant money will support a new 40-hour rotation at the Richmond Health and Wellness Program in Richmond, which is a university-led community-based care-coordination program focused on improving the health of economically disadvantaged older adults.
The VGEC also features two other important initiatives. The first is a focus on preventing the recurrence of falls among seniors using an evidence-based practice approach that includes bringing together the various health care professions to learn what works in preventing falls and how each profession can contribute, such as through improved monitoring of medications or focused screenings for falls risk. The second is an innovative approach to training family caregivers to be more effective in caring for their loved ones with dementia. The VGEC project will team with statewide web-based resource Senior Navigator to offer caregivers knowledge and skills to help their loved ones.
“Our faculty development program scholars must complete curriculum projects on content they have learned with us so that they, in turn, can teach colleagues and students,” Ansello said. “In this way, we help to pass the torch of interprofessional geriatrics.”