PORTLAND – I would like to applaud the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram for their special report, “The Challenge of Our Age,” an extended series that investigates what it means to age in Maine.

As a professor and the coordinator of the online gerontology certificate program at the University of Southern Maine, I’d like to highlight the need for a trained and competent workforce to care for our aging state.

In 1998, I went back to school to complete my doctorate in gerontology, realizing the need to enhance my own and others’ skills in geriatric care.

The tipping point came when my family and I assisted my aging mother when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was evident that both I and the health care and human service workforce lacked certain knowledge, skills and abilities.

I entered higher education once again with an interest in training the workforce to better understand the needs of older adults and encouraging methods of caring for them that are backed up by evidence and don’t rely on medication.

Appreciating the demographic shift and the necessity for trained professionals, I completed my work in 2001. Since then I have been involved in developing evidence-based guidelines, testing the effects of non-drug approaches to care for the disturbing behaviors associated with dementia, using pedometers to increase physical activity and complementary approaches, such as Reiki, to care for older adults.

In addition, I have written on the use of cooking and meal time as therapeutic tools. I have done numerous presentations and have trained hundreds of students to care for our aging population.

The nation is now realizing the need for a competent workforce. In 2007, the Institute of Medicine, an independent, nonprofit organization that provides unbiased advice to the government and public, was charged by the ad hoc committee on the Future Health Care Workforce for Older Americans to understand the health care needs of this population.

They were tasked with assessing the needs in order to train and educate the workforce. The report suggested that the complex needs of older adults will outpace the number of health care providers who have the measurable or observable knowledge, skills and abilities to care for this growing population of baby boomers.

The report highlights three approaches:

Enhancing the geriatric competence of the entire workforce.

Increasing the recruitment and retention of geriatric specialists and caregivers.

Improving the way care is delivered.

The report notes that the health care workforce receives little geriatric training. Therefore, competencies need to be improved through curricula, training and continuing education.

Reform is needed in the way the workforce is trained. A sizable and skilled workforce is needed, along with better education and training.

In 2008, the Partnership for Health in Aging, a coalition of 21 professional organizations interested in advancing the Institute of Medicine’s report, was organized.

The group’s mission was to “prepare America’s formal and informal caregiving workforce to provide quality care for America’s aging population and to ensure the financial feasibility of providing that care.”

The coalition developed a set of particular strengths needed to work as a health professional in geriatric care. The partnership developed six domains, each of which has detailed skills needed for baseline training to enter the workforce:

Health promotion and safety.

Evaluation and assessment.

Care planning and coordination across the care spectrum (including end-of-life care).

Interdisciplinary and team care.

Caregiver support.

Health care systems and benefits.

If you are a health and human service worker in Maine who is working with older adults, consider finding the resources and educational opportunities needed to meet these competencies.

Some suggested resources would be through educational opportunities at work, professional organizations, community agencies and programs, local universities, and keeping up with your trade journals.

The biggest impact the reader can have is a commitment to honestly reviewing their own strengths and determining where fine-tuning is needed. From this critical analysis of one’s strengths, one can plan one’s continuing education.

In 2012, the University of Southern Maine responded to the need for increased education and training in geriatric care by developing an online gerontology certificate, focused on meeting the core competencies developed by the Partnership for Health in Aging.

We are approaching our second year with enthusiasm and much interest by matriculated students enrolled in health and human services degree programs. However, we would like to reach out to those currently working in the field who find that they need to advance their competencies to meet the complex needs of our aging state.

Nancy Richeson is a professor of recreation and leisure studies at the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. To learn more about USM’s online gerontology certificate program, visit http://bit.ly/19RaHJv or email Richeson at [email protected]

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