Efforts by the University of South Alabama College of Nursing to improve health care for the elderly in Alabama, Florida and Georgia will soon get a boost following a three-year, $1.2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration to support the Live Oak Geriatric Education Center, an interdisciplinary consortium involving USA, Florida State University, and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.
Dr. Lynn Chilton, Coordinator
USA Geropsych Nurse Practitioner
The purpose of the Live Oak Geriatric Education Center is to expand interdisciplinary faculty and student training of multiple health care disciplines in geriatrics, and to extend training to community-based health care professionals in northwest Florida, south Georgia, and southeast Alabama. Health care faculty and professionals in fields such as medicine, nursing, social work, physical therapy, pharmacy, and speech therapy will be helped by the new consortium.
“This is a significant grant to help improve educational outreach to local and regional professionals who care for older adults,” said Dr. Lynn Chilton, project director of the new grant for USA’s College of Nursing.
According to Chilton, a needs assessment study conducted for the grant showed that less than one-third of health care faculty has had geriatrics training. Most of the faculty also reported spending less than one-quarter of their teaching time on geriatrics, although health care professionals spend more than half of their time with geriatric clients or patients.
In addition to its focus on faculty training, the new consortium will also work to better educate health care professionals in the region. Chilton said the assessment study showed that 70 percent of faculty and providers surveyed indicated a willingness to receive additional training in geriatrics.
The Live Oak Geriatric Education Center is one of approximately 50 centers nationwide, but it is the only one to focus on training health care providers who serve the elderly in underserved rural and urban areas in the three Southeastern states.
According to Chilton, Alabama, Florida and Georgia have a very high percentage of underserved elders who require health care. National projections such as those given by the National Institute on Aging only serve to reinforce concerns about the future of health care for elderly in America, especially those in rural and underserved areas of the nation.
“This age group is growing, and it is estimated that by the year 2050, more than 70 million Americans will be over the age of 65,” Chilton said. “More health care professionals in all disciplines will continue to need concentrated educational opportunities in the field of geriatrics in order to meet the needs of older individuals.”
Access to continuing education has historically been a problem for health care professionals in rural areas because of the distances they must travel to attend classes and meetings. The geriatric education consortium will use technology, in part, to help close the gap by hosting online training programs and videoconferencing.
Other USA nursing faculty involved in the project are Dr. Joyce Varner, who serves on the Live Oak Geriatric Education Center faculty, and Dr. Rebecca Ryan, who coordinated the design and writing of the Live Oak grant proposal, outlining USA’s role in the consortium.
“The College of Nursing is very proud of the work of Drs. Chilton, Varner and Ryan,” said Dr. Debra Davis, dean of the College of Nursing at USA. “They are extremely passionate about the work they do in geriatrics and are providing a great service to health care providers in our area through their work with the Live Oak Geriatric Education grant.
“The College of Nursing strives to provide high-quality education for our students and nurses in our region,” Davis said. “Drs. Chilton, Varner and Ryan's work on this project will result in developing the nursing workforce to enable them to provide the highest quality of care for elders.”
In addition to her role as project director, Chilton will also serve on the faculty of the new Live Oak consortium. As a member of USA’s College of Nursing faculty, she serves as professor and coordinator of the Geropsych Nurse Practitioner graduate program.
Chilton has been a member of the board of directors as secretary and president-elect, and Health Affairs Council director for several state and national nursing organizations that work with advanced practice nurses who care for older adults. These organizations include the National Conference of Gerontological Nurse Practitioners, the American College of Nurse Practitioners and the Mississippi State Nurses Organization. Additionally, Chilton served as chair of the National Gerontological Nurse Practitioner Certification Exam. She has authored numerous articles in professional journals related to elders, and has given national presentations on topics concerning the health care of older adults.
In addition to her work with the Live Oak consortium, Varner is an assistant professor of adult health nursing at USA and teaches in the college’s Geropsych Nurse Practitioner program. She has been on the board of directors of District 4 Alabama Nurses Association and has developed the “Toolkit for Retention of Nursing Personnel in Nursing Homes,” available on the Alabama State Nurses Association Web site for use by any long-term care facility. Varner has made numerous state and national presentations on elder health care, and has authored several publications in professional nursing publications.
Both Drs. Chilton and Varner have years of experience in working with elders as Gerontological Nurse Practitioners, and will use their clinical and educational experience to improve health care for elders in Alabama, Florida and Georgia by working with other health care professionals through the new Live Oak consortium.
Joining USA’s College of Nursing in the interdisciplinary effort are FSU’s College of Medicine and School of Social Work, FAMU’s schools of Nursing and Allied Health Sciences, and its College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.