Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Exploring Strategies to Advance Public-Sector Funding in Geriatric Social Work Education

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Exploring Strategies to Advance Public-Sector Funding in Geriatric Social Work Education

Article excerpt

AMERICA'S POPULATION is aging at a rapid pace. In 2002, the population of Americans 65 years of age and older numbered 35.6 million and represented 12.3% of the population (Administration on Aging, 2003). The U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA) further reports that the population of those over the age of 85 will more than double by 2030. Individuals and families within these populations face a myriad of physical, psychological, social, and economic challenges. The impact of these challenges, combined with the rising health care costs and the number of uninsured citizens, will have a profound impact on the U.S. health-care system (Dill, 2001).

As people live longer they are more likely to experience disabling health problems. Enormous amounts of medical resources are being spent on long-term care (LTC) (Liu, Manton, & Aragon, 2000). It is estimated that the costs of LTC for the elderly alone, mainly funded through state Medicaid programs or private pay, will reach $346 billion by the year 2040 (Congressional Budget Office, 1999).

The Agency for Health care Research and Quality (AHRQ), (2002) reports that severe health disparities exist for elderly minority populations who fall below poverty levels. In 2002, approximately 10% of the population over the age of 65 fell below poverty lines and subsequently rely upon Medicaid for their health and mental health care (Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, 2004). Ethnic minority populations are projected to represent 26.4% of the older adult population in 2030, up from 17.2% in 2002 (AoA, 2003). Between 2000 and 2030, the minority population over 65 is projected to increase by 223%, including Latinos (342%), African Americans (164%), American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts (207%), and Asians and Pacific Islanders (302%), compared with 77% for Caucasian populations (AoA, 2003). Also, ethnic minorities exhibit higher rates of diabetes, HIV, heart disease, and hypertension, and are less likely to have access to community-based sources of health care to utilize preventive health care (Agency for Health care Research and Quality [AHRQ], 2002). The cost of providing such care will escalate in the near future unless community-based health services are expanded (Centers for Disease Control, 2001; Mokdad, 2000).

Demographic changes will accentuate the gaps in health care and compel an increase in the number of aging-competent professionals who are able to navigate and expedite highly sophisticated and complex health care and social service systems (New York Academy of Medicine [NYAM], 2000). New funding and resources are needed to create a highly trained and well-developed workforce competent in age-related and community-based services. A workforce is needed that is responsive to family caregiver needs and trained to assess patient needs from an ecological perspective (Longres, 2000) that focuses not only on the individual person, but on family and environmental factors as well.

Rationale for the Supply, Demand, and Use of Social Workers Serving Older Populations

Social work's ecological systems perspective and training in community-based health care places the profession in a leadership position for meeting the changing health care needs of our aging society. By providing social supports and resource development for family caregivers, social workers are able to lower the risk for more costly inpatient and premature residential care for older adults (American Association of Retired Persons, 2001; AoA, 2000; Damron-Rodriguez & Lubben, 1994). Such efforts lower family burdens, professional medical expenses, and costly re-hospitalization (Scharlach, Damron-Rodriguez, Robinson, & Feldman, 2000). Through advocacy and leadership roles in local and state government and social and health care agencies, social workers are designing and implementing community-based service systems that are responsive to the rapidly changing needs not only of older adults but their families as well (Damron-Rodriguez, 1993). …

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