Social Work in the Public Eye (October 2008)

Frances KerchnerFrances Kerchner was quoted in the MetroWest Daily News in Framingham, Mass., in a story about what living options are available for people as they age.

The story noted that the AARP reports that 9 out of 10 Americans age 60 and older wish to remain in their own homes as they age. The fastest-growing segment of the population is the over-85 age group and the senior population is expected to double in the next 30 years.

Living longer brings with it a whole new set of challenges, the story stated. Kerchner, of Kerchner Associates, was quoted as saying, "Long-term care has historically consisted of two options for older adults: move in with a family member or move into a nursing home. But today's seniors are living longer and want the choice and independence they have had all their lives."

Independence is attainable, but may require some support. Much of this support is provided by family members. According to the Metropolitan Life Mature Market Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving, there are 633,549 family caregivers living in Massachusetts. Two out of three of these caregivers work outside the home. Kerchner pointed out that "for an adult child, working and balancing family needs with an elderly parent or parents is quite a juggling act."

One solution might be a geriatric care manager (GCM), the story pointed out. A GCM is a health and human services specialist who helps families who are caring for older relatives.

The story noted that according to the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers, a GCM can do many things:

  • conduct an assessment to identify problems and provide solutions;
  • screen, arrange and monitor in-home help or other services;
  • coordinate short- or long-term assistance for caregivers; * review financial, legal or medical issues and offer referrals to geriatric specialists;
  • provide crisis intervention;
  • act as a liaison to families at a distance;
  • assist with moving an older person to or from a retirement complex, assisted care home or nursing home;
  • provide consumer education and advocacy; and
  • offer counseling and support.

GCMs work primarily with older adults and have knowledge of aging issues that allow them to overcome the myths related to aging and to focus on the problem at hand. They are aware of real-life problems, health and otherwise, that emerge as people age and the tools that are available to address those issues. They are also connected to a community of social workers, nurses, psychologists, elder law attorneys, advocates and other elder care professionals who may be of assistance.

For many older adults and their loved ones, the problems they face are becoming larger and more complex than they can manage. Demands and responsibilities become so great that families are not able to provide the level of attention that is necessary to successfully "age in place."


Gillian Wadsworth (no photo) was quoted in the Times-Standard in Eureka, Calif., in a story about the debate on whether it would be beneficial to lower the legal drinking age in the U.S. from 21 to 18.

While the number of college presidents and chancellors who have signed what's called the Amethyst Initiative to lower the drinking age has grown rapidly since it was launched, the story noted Humboldt State University was taking a firm stance against the idea.

The Amethyst Initiative doesn't specifically call for lowering the legal drinking age. Instead, its Web site said, it is just a way to get people into a dialogue about the current legal age, which signatories of the initiative say is not working because of the clandestine nature underage binge drinking creates, the story stated.

HSU President Rollin Richmond said he would want to see empirical data confirming that changing the legal drinking age would actually change students' behaviors for the better.

Gillian Wadsworth, a clinical social worker, agreed, the story stated.

"The concept of drinking alcohol is going to be associated to being an adult or being cool. Whether it's 18 or 21 it's going to hold that same stigma," Wadsworth said, adding that lowering the drinking age may just cause a trickle-down effect.

"I don't think that perception is going to change. The behavior is just going to start just that much younger," she said.


Joan Levy ZlotnikJoan Levy Zlotnik, executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research, had a letter to the editor published in The Washington Post in response to the paper's story about Cedric Jennings, who went from Ballou High School in the District of Columbia to Brown University.

Zlotnik noted that the July 26 story quoted Jennings as saying he has been told he could be doing "greater" things than making a living as a social worker at the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency. "That assertion seemed to be the gist of the story," Zlotnik wrote in her letter.

"Perhaps if people better understood the complexities of social work, they would see it as more attractive and more important than working for a brokerage firm; that could lead to social work becoming more lucrative," the letter stated.

"One of the greatest challenges that the social work profession faces today is that it is devalued by the public, by journalists and by policymakers. Social workers help people faced with life struggles, whether it's a child abused by parents or a corporate CEO making plans to move a cognitively impaired and physically frail parent to an assisted living or nursing facility. With a lengthy article on Jennings's soul-searching, The Post did a disservice to his decisions, the mentorship he received and the important work he is doing in our community," Zlotnik stated.

"Don't we want the best and the brightest to be attracted to working with foster children or with parents who abuse their children? As a social worker, I am so proud of Cedric Jennings's choice," the letter concluded.


Risa Breckman (no photo) was quoted in a story published in the Cornell Chronicle in Ithaca, N.Y., recently. The article announced that Weill Cornell Medical College is being awarded $80,000 to study the creation of a Manhattan Elder Abuse Case Coordination and Review Center (EACCRC), in collaboration with the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home at Riverdale and the New York City Elder Abuse Network.

"With the number of older people on the rise, it is increasingly important to develop effective strategies for addressing elder abuse and neglect," Brickman was quoted as saying. She is the director of social work education and programs in the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and a nationally renowned authority on elder abuse and neglect. "This is a complex problem that requires a focused collaborative effort. This grant will provide the resources to take our work to another level," she said.

The award is funded by the Fan Fox & Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, with matching funds from a donor identified by the Hebrew Home at Riverdale. The new financial support will go toward advancing the goals of preventing abuse and helping victims achieve a life without mistreatment.