MSW graduates first class
Eight students complete training to care for the aging
The Hartford Foundation and the Jewish Heritage Foundation were right. Both organizations saw the "silver tsunami" coming, the record number of aging citizens -- today's Baby Boomers -- who would soon need services and care. Based on a national survey conducted in 2004, only 4 percent of social workers are educated in aging services. And social workers themselves, 30 percent aged 55 and over, are poised to shift from caregivers to those needing care.
Nationally, Hartford invested grant money at 72 sites and coordinated with local agencies, like the Jewish Heritage Foundation, that provided matching funds. In Kansas City, the two groups offered $150,000 for student stipends. The Jewish Heritage Foundation then encouraged UMKC's School of Social Work to develop a Masters in Social Work (MSW) program in aging, and to apply for the grant that would support the students.
The result is the first graduating class recruited and trained through the Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education (HPPAE). Eight students -- under the supervision of Professors Lee Rathbone-McCuan, Ph.D., and Elaine Spencer-Carver, Ph.D., director of field education -- are completing their academic and clinical training at local social service agencies for senior citizens.
During their advanced two-semester internship -- the "concentration" year -- students devote at least 520 uncompensated hours of work to their agencies. Guided by a learning contract, students demonstrate their decision-making on issues involving diversity, social justice, ethics and the social environment. This personal interaction is the foundation of competent social work practice.
MSW students see the need
At the Shepherd's Center, an older-adult community service center, Ashley Zimmerman's clients are themselves volunteers.
"They are older adults who want to give back to their communities. They use Shepherd's Center resources for less able-bodied adults, taking them meals, providing transportation, grocery shopping or just visiting," Zimmerman said.
Brookside Adult Day Healthcare is a respite center for adults with a wide range of physical and/or cognitive limitations. With the family member safe and secure, family caregivers can work, keep appointments and have time for their own well-being. According to student Mary McGinness, "The fact that loved ones can remain in their own homes or with family is the greatest gift that Brookside Adult Day Healthcare gives to its clients."
Even residential centers offer specialized services. Liza Hertfelder interns at St. Luke's Hospice and Hospital, where she is a part of the hospice team. In addition to "helping take care of the psychosocial needs of dying patients and their families," Hertfelder says she also has devised a caregiver support program that is gaining interest with her hospice team.
Johnson County Nursing Center (JCNC) has undergone a recent transformation, from a more traditional residence to a resident-centered, long-term care facility.
"Resident choice, resident schedule and resident first," said MSW student Amber Wingerter. Because of her mother's background working in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and her own work in a nursing facility, Wingerter appreciates the differences. She recalls the progression of Parkinson's in her grandmother's life, and the care available -- or not available. At JCNC, with 130 staff to meet the needs of more than 80 residents in the nursing department, Wingerter sees a superior level of treatment.
Due to its outstanding efforts at UMKC, the School of Social Work was sought out as a teaching center for the Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education (HPPAE). UMKC's MSW program is part of a national movement to educate social service professionals with expertise in caring for older adults.
A leader in the effort is the New York Academy of Medicine, an institution dedicated to providing better health options for the disadvantaged. One of NYAM's divisions, the Social Work Leadership Institute, brought in the Hartford Foundation to offer student stipends; so far, through the HPPAE, 1,000 social workers have been prepared for the workforce.
With its obvious success, HPPAE has become a model for other MSW programs. A pilot study showed that high numbers of HPPAE graduates, approximately 80 percent, found jobs in aging care. Like Connie Boyd, the students' affection and interest in older people has only deepened during their practicum work.
People worth knowing
"Our aging clients are a rich resource in history, very well-educated and experienced," said Boyd. “Americans are living longer and working longer, so we must gear society to be accepting.”
Adds Mary McGinness, "The elderly population are people, too; they've just been around longer than the rest of us. It is exciting to be a part of their lives and see all they are capable of and their pride in what they do."
Posted: January 20, 2009