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IOM Seeks Social Workers’ Input on Aging Workforce

The Institute of Medicine is turning to social workers for input on the mental health and substance use workforce that serves America’s older adults.

The IOM has been asked by Congress to make policy recommendations for growing and strengthening this particular workforce. Two social workers — María Aranda and Anni Chung — serve on the IOM Committee on the Mental Health Workforce for Geriatric Populations. In June, the committee met in Washington with experts to discuss workforce challenges.

Aranda said the committee is seeking input on the latest workforce perspectives and models of care for the aging population. An associate professor and chair of the Older Adult Subconcentration at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, Aranda said input was sought not only from senior health care leaders, but also consumers, family members and caregivers.

Aranda said the information gathered at the workshop will be considered in a final report to Congress, expected to be complete in the first half of next year. She said she was impressed that each panel presentation at the workshop included a social worker.

One of them was Robyn Golden, director of Older Adult Programs at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Golden stressed that there is a severe shortage of geriatric mental health providers.

“It is critical to propose action goals to alleviate the crisis and continue to supply a sufficient workforce for helping older adults with mental health problems,” she said.

Among the issues that need critical attention are recruiting and retaining staff and finding future leaders.

Golden outlined several goals and objectives for consideration, including a call to increase the relevance, effectiveness and accessibility of training.

Social worker Bernie Seifert, coordinator of older adult programs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness in New Hampshire, discussed the Side-by-Side for Independent Living Program, a guide that addresses mental health and healthy aging for older adults and caregivers.

She said her recommendations to the committee included the need to develop partnerships for training beyond medical and social service providers to also include family caregivers. “It’s important to involve families and other caregivers in the training and education we provide,” she said.

Seifert said 500 laypeople have been trained with the Side-by-Side model, which is divided into topics that caregivers and consumers typically face, such as signs of depression, managing medical care and how to talk with your doctor.

She said it is vital that the IOM Committee understand the challenges facing the senior mental health care workforce.

Social worker Kathy Kuhn, director of Workforce Development at the Institute for Geriatric Social Work at Boston University School of Social Work, was another panelist. She said the workshop is a step in the right direction since there is a need for a competent and well-trained mental health workforce, especially in light of the projected doubling of the aged population by 2030.

She said fewer students in professional social work programs are studying aging, yet 75 percent will work with older adults in their careers. Kuhn said most agencies have little or no standardized training in aging, but the Institute for Geriatric Social Work at Boston University has made efforts to address this, creating a Web-based training program and a catalogue of 29 online aging courses.

Social workers Stephen Ferrante, director of the Aging Academy, Florida Atlantic University, and Dan Timmel, policy analyst with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, also presented.

Chris Herman, a NASW senior practice associate, attended the workshop. In a related development, she noted that the Caring for an Aging America Act, S.1095, was reintroduced in Congress in May. The bill would expand the Health Resources and Services Administration’s National Health Service Corps program to include primary health care professionals with training in geriatrics and gerontology.

“If this bill passes, it would benefit social workers and increase the availability of specialized health care services for older adults,” Herman said.