The University of New England, with a campus in Biddeford, will receive $999,917 in grant funding to educate and train primary care and supportive care workforces to provide age-friendly and dementia-friendly care for older adults. This funding is awarded through the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Fiscal Year 2024 Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP), and will support the GWEP at UNE, known as AgingME.

Maine Senator Susan Collins was instrumental in providing the funding that will benefit UNE’s AgingME program. She authored the Geriatrics Workforce Improvement Act in 2019, legislation which received bipartisan support and that reauthorized the GWEP for five years to increase the number of geriatric health professionals to support the nation’s aging population. This legislation was signed into law in March 2020 as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act.

“For Maine, with an aging population of more than a quarter million Mainers over the age of 65, and less than 40 practicing geriatricians, there is an acute need to quickly train more geriatric health professionals to meet the growing demand,” said Collins. “I will continue to support efforts to expand training and educational opportunities in geriatrics, helping to develop a high-quality geriatric workforce ready to provide care for Americans.”

“I’m thrilled and grateful to lead this opportunity from HRSA to tackle workforce needs to better support Maine’s rural, older adults,” said Susan Wehry, MD, director of AgingME. “Over the next five years, in partnership with Maine’s Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and the University of Maine’s Center on Aging, UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Center for Excellence in Public Health will focus on the direct care workforce and rural education with new and innovative strategies.”

Currently, there are fewer than 7,300 physicians that are board-certified geriatricians, which is fewer than 1% of all physicians. According to the American Geriatrics Society, the United States needs to train approximately 20,000 geriatricians to staff up for the country’s needs now and even more are needed — as many as 30,000 by 2030 — to meet the needs of our aging population.

As a member and now vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Collins has secured funding to grow HRSA’s Geriatric workforce education programs, including the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program and Geriatric Academic Career Awards. The fiscal year (FY) 2024 appropriations law provides $48.2 million for HRSA Geriatric workforce education programs, an increase of $1 million over FY 2023 enacted.

GWEP is the only federally funded program that exists to educate and train health care professionals in geriatrics. Research suggests geriatricians more effectively manage older patients’ care. HRSA has awarded funding to 42 grantees as part of the FY 2024 Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program, including the GWEP program at UNE. GWEP programs help integrate geriatrics into primary care, train providers to address the needs of older adults, deliver community-based programs, and provide Alzheimer’s disease education.

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