Aging Boom Meeting Focuses on Practice

Sandra LopezKeynote speaker Sandra Lopez discussed practical approaches for clinical social workers to meet the growing needs of diverse seniors.

NASW's first practice conference, "The Aging Boom: Is Your Clinical Practice Ready?" held March 15-16 in Las Vegas was a success, with more than 400 social workers from across the country attending.

NASW President James Kelly said the event, which focused on helping social work private practitioners better serve the expanding aging population, was well received among presenters and attendees. "People were satisfied that our topics were so current," Kelly said.

Attendees had the opportunity to choose among 16 breakout sessions, general sessions about workforce trends and also the chance learn ways to advance careers while serving older adults.

NASW Nevada Chapter Executive Director Mark Nichols said his members were happy to be part of an event that examined such an important issue. "The conference was very much appreciated, especially for our members in Nevada," Nichols said. "We have one of the fastest growing aging populations in the country. Our state plan simply does not have the services to meet their needs. So, the more social workers trained in aging issues, the better for our state."

Dustin Manhart was one of the attendees. He works as the home services manager for Community SeniorServ, Inc., in Anaheim, Calif. Manhart said he valued the fact that NASW organized the conference in conjunction with the American Society on Aging/National Council on Aging 2009 Aging in America Conference. "It brought a lot of the same leaders together," he said. "I also liked that the focus for the national level is on older adults. There's a shortage of people out there for this, so for geriatrics to be the topic of the first conference shows the national office is taking it seriously."

Manhart said he will utilize some of the things he learned at the conference, particularly case management improvements for his team that delivers meals on wheels to seniors. Networking opportunities were also appreciated, he said.

Among the presenters was Forrest Hong, owner of Senior Savy, a California company that provides professional care management and services for families.

Hong is also chair of NASW's Specialty Practice Section on Aging. His workshop, "Aging in Place," examined ways social workers can help families manage change for an elder, from living arrangements to medications.

Hong said the topics of the conference were timely and the audience ranged from beginners to seasoned veterans who deal with aging issues. "It was a good time to catch up with old friends and make new friends," he said. "I think it was a well-paced conference."

Hong said it's important that social workers of all disciplines keep up with the trends taking place in aging. "The baby boomers are coming and their needs will be different" than the previous generation, he said. "Social workers should be prepared to go along with these changes. These conferences are important to keep on that focus."

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark noted that it is critical NASW address aging issues from a social work perspective. The National Institutes of Health reported that 60,000 to 70,000 professional social workers are needed to serve the aging boomer population.

In 2005, the Social Work Congress determined 12 imperatives for the future success of social work. Two of the imperatives emphasized preparing clinicians for work with the baby boom generation. A population of 58 million baby boomers age 66 to 84 is expected by 2030.

Karyn Walsh, special assistant for special projects at NASW, was among several staffers from the association's national office in Washington, D.C., to assist in presentations at the conference. The topics ranged from ethics to criminal justice to case management opportunities.

Walsh led a workshop on "Practice with Older Adults Who Have Cancer: Addressing Concurrent Psychosocial Challenges."

"I was most impressed with the hospice social workers who attended the session and offered helpful feedback on handling such caseloads," Walsh said. "I was reminded again how social workers are hopeful, resilient, clever, creative, and supportive of each other."

She said the conference was a great opportunity to take NASW National on the road, so to speak, and unite those involved with aging issues with an opportunity to improve on ways to meet the needs of America's aging population.

"We walked away better prepared to address it, offered strategies and support, and remained committed to social justice," she said.

Kelly told attendees that the association carried over its green initiative at the conference by eliminating paper copies of the presentation materials.

Attendees were given a flash memory stick containing all the necessary PowerPoint presentations and additional resources for the conference. Participants also received biodegradable conference bags to carry their items.