Three-year grant will increase training in geriatrics

With the population of older adults increasing rapidly, hospitals and long-term care settings need to be able to keep up with the need for geriatric mental health services. A federal grant has been given to USF and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in order to help train the next generation of medical specialists in the area of geriatric mental health.

Victor Molinari, a professor in the Department of Aging and Mental Health and the principle investigator of the grant, said he hopes the grant will allow USF and the hospital to increase the number of medical specialists.

“Older adults currently make up 13 percent of the population, but only receive 5 to 6 percent of the mental health services. Part of the reason for that is that we don’t have enough trained mental health professionals to adequately address the mental health problems of older adults,” said Molinari.

The Health Resources and Services Administration is providing the three-year grant of $667,000. The grant will be jointly used by the USF Department of Aging and Mental Health at the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, the USF School of Aging Studies and the Veterans’ Hospital.

USF and the Veterans’ Hospital will use the grant to train three geropsychology post-doctoral fellows to address the problems of older adults, particularly those who are disadvantaged, Molinari said.

In addition to focusing on disadvantaged older adults, the grant program will also emphasize long-term care settings, Molinari said.

“That is treating older adults who have chronic medical or psychiatric problems in settings such as nursing homes or assisted living faculties,” he said.

Molinari added that each organization involved in the grant would provide specific services for training the fellows. The USF School of Aging Studies will be offering the courses needed to teach the fellows, the FMHI will be responsible for the research training and the Veterans’ Hospital will provide the sites for students to work and get experience.

One of the unique aspects of the grant is that USF and the Veterans’ Hospital will be training the fellows how to work in multidisciplinary settings, Molinari said. This will be done by providing a training module in which the fellows get training in how to interact with other disciplines that are working to address mental health problems in older adults.

“So we are going to use a biological/psychosocial model where the biological, social and psychological aspects of older adults’ mental health problems will be addresses via different disciplines,” Molinari said.

After taking the required courses and receiving training from USF, the Veterans’ Hospital will provide a number of settings in which the fellows can work and apply their skills, said Rodney Vanderploeg, the Clinical Training Director of Psychology at the Veterans’ Hospital.

Vanderploeg said examples of settings where fellows can apply what they have learned are the Nursing Home Care Unit, the Dementia Memory Disorder Clinic and the Inpatient Acute Rehabilitation Program.

In addition to providing psychological services, such as supportive counseling and physical and mental therapy, the fellows will also be providing the patients and their family members with help in dealing with the patients transition from the nursing home to their own home.

“Patients often have difficulties coping with changes as a result of a stroke or other things that put them in a nursing home. Patients can become depressed and have other types of adjustment concerns, so the fellows will work with family members to help them with the transition,” Vanderploeg said.

Although the grant is only for three years, both Molinari and Vanderploeg said they hope it will be renewed.

“I would like to see us reapply when this grant comes up and hopefully expand this and make it an ongoing geriatric training program between the Florida Mental Health Institute and the Veterans’ Hospital,” Vanderploeg said.

“My hope is that we are going to continue to do this kind of training. We are very happy that we received this funding, and we think it is very important for the federal government to promote training in geropsychology,” Molinari said.