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Geriatric Workforce Enhancement: A Year in Review

Nurse Pushing Senior Patient In Wheelchair Along Corridor

When Aging and Disability Services (ADS) first announced our clinical-community partnership with the Northwest Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Center (NWGWEC), we could not know how successful it would be and how much we all would learn.

What’s been happening

Since our update in April 2016, ADS worked with the Area Agency on Aging & Disabilities of Southwest Washington to develop a practicum experience for healthcare trainees, residents, and fellows. Geriatric Medicine Fellows rotating throughout King County’s aging network have participated in listening sessions with Sound Generations advocates, observed care consultants at the  Alzheimer’s Association, rode along on meal deliveries with Lifelong’s Chicken Soup Brigade, and accompanied Seattle Housing Authority case managers on client visits.

nwgwecHealthcare providers and trainees have also learned about community-based programs during remote case consultations in Project ECHO—Geriatrics. Area Agency on Aging (AAA) representation on the interdisciplinary panel has ensured that programs such as Living Well with Chronic Conditions, PEARLS, Family Caregiver Support, and A Matter of Balance are included in care planning.

Bridging the gap

Much of health happens outside of a clinical setting, influenced by where and how we live, work, learn, and play. The collaborative activities of the NWGWEC aim to develop providers that can address the clinical and social needs of older adults. As we had hoped, educational activities and targeted outreach have been successful in raising healthcare providers’ awareness and understanding of community resources. One Fellow who spent time in the aging network shared:

“It’s like someone is drawing back the curtain to reveal what’s happening outside of the clinical setting. There are so many people and resources that I now understand what’s going on behind the scenes.”

Awareness building has also happened from within. Last spring, NWGWEC supported us in broadcasting the Geriatric Healthcare Lecture Series for AAA staff. We saw widespread participation, group-based discussion, and resource-sharing among social workers, caregiver specialists, and nurses. This specialized clinical education has helped staff feel better equipped to support older adults and their families managing their health care. One participant in the series shared:

“Over the course of the series, I have gained language that will help me communicate to others about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The series also prepared me to approach end-of-life issues with clients and their loved ones.”

Our geriatrics workforce

Cutting across clinical and community environments means that we will be better equipped to meet the needs of older adults—and we will feel less alone in doing so. AAA staff who provided mentorship for the Fellows have expressed feeling encouraged by their interactions, like a mutual understanding of other’s work had been established. Caregiver coordinator Kristine Broome reflects on a home visit:

“The observing Fellow recognized the caregiver’s spouse as a patient seen during a clinic rotation. The caregiver was excited to show the Fellow how they had been using the prescribed medical equipment. Likewise, the Fellow found it valuable to see the care receiver in a home environment. During the visit, the caregiver mentioned fatigue due to loss of sleep. Together, the Fellow and I were able to offer new strategies and resources to help relieve the caregiver of nighttime stress.”

Dr. Bennett, associate program director for the UW Geriatric Medicine Fellowship, shared a similar sentiment:

“As a geriatrician, it has been so wonderful to have an opportunity to work with the AAAs. It is so nice to be a part of a community that cares so deeply for older adults. Partnerships like this make my job much more fun and rewarding.”

We look forward to another year of collaboration and learning!

Contributors Allison Boll and Mary Pat O’Leary work in the planning unit at Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County. Allison is the agency’s primary care liaison and Mary Pat is a registered nurse and planner.