Nursing homes to benefit from new geriatric workforce grant

Young adult Hispanic woman is talking with young adult Caucasian blonde woman and young adult African American woman outside on college campus. Women are nursing or medical students. They are wearing hospital scrubs and stethoscopes.
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A new grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services will help enhance geriatric care training for the long-term care workforce, according to the leaders of the Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program at the University of Southern Indiana. 

While that school’s program is the direct beneficiary of the $120,000 grant, collaborating nursing homes and worker education programs will be looped into the benefits. 

“This supplemental funding enables the USI GWEP to enhance the partnerships we have with academic institutions and nursing homes,” said Katie Ehlman, PhD, director of USI’s Bronstein Center for Healthy Aging, of which the program is a part.

Already funded by a nearly $3.7 million award from HHS’ Health Resources and Services Administration, the program’s directors announced the additional funding for fiscal year 2024 Monday. 

With workforce challenges constantly front-and-center in long-term care, this program is another example of how fostering partnerships with academic and government organizations can open new training and retention opportunities for providers while sharpening the skills of nursing home workers. 

The funding will build on the success of existing GWEP programs to strengthen nursing home staff training, employee retention and care quality, Ehlman explained. 

“Our efforts are designed to enhance evidence-based learning opportunities for current nursing home employees and open the door to nursing home careers with future health care professionals,” she told McKnight’s Tuesday.

Opening doors

Among the program’s prior successes, partnered nursing homes have sent employees to be trained as “mental health first aid instructors.” Those employees then returned to their facilities to teach other staff members about how to care for residents struggling with mental health.

Training nursing home workers to specialize in care areas like this can be a significant boost for nursing home workforces, experts say, because it helps retain facilities’ strongest employees by giving them the means to rise up the career ladder and feel more valued day-to-day. 

This year, improving dementia care education is a primary focus for the grant funds. For example, Amy Pierce, instructor in nursing at USI, described a dementia simulation that the university’s nursing program is adding to its curriculum with help from the GWEP.

“Dementia Live is a high-impact, dementia simulation experience that immerses students into life with dementia,” she said. “The intent of this simulation is to provide training for nursing students to promote knowledge, understanding and empathy when providing care.”

The program is also creating a new ageism presentation for nursing home care workers and is working with the Indiana Department of Health to update dementia care education in the state’s curriculum for incoming certified nursing assistants.

Two nursing homes are among the partners for this year’s projects — Oasis Dementia Care in Evansville, IN, and Newburgh Healthcare in Newburgh, IN — as well as a local healthcare education center and USI’s own bachelor-level nursing program.

Nursing and occupational therapy faculty at USI will be hosting a series of training sessions for those nursing homes, Ehlman told McKnight’s. Ultimately, she sees the ongoing collaboration between USI and local facilities as a major upside of the grant funding.

“I like that the supplemental funds include two levels of outcomes,” she explained. “First, our USI GWEP team has opportunities to work directly with nursing home staff members. Second, we have created opportunities to expose our current Bachelor in Science Nursing students to possible career opportunities working in nursing homes because of exposing them to age-friendly nursing home content. Both are important components in addressing workforce needs and quality of life of elders.”


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