CONTACT: BECKY SOGLIN
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-6660; fax (319) 384-4638
Release: July 24, 2002
Conference aims to improve mental health care of older adults
Providing care to older adults with mental illnesses is a growing need in
Iowa, with nearly 20 percent of citizens over age 55 experiencing mental disorders
that are not part of normal aging. In addition, obstacles to providing services
are numerous, including stigma surrounding mental illness, lack of funding,
access barriers and fragmentation in service delivery systems for older adults
with mental illness.
To help overcome those obstacles, experts in the University of Iowa Department
of Psychiatry have organized a conference for health care professionals to
learn new ways to work together to provide improved care for people with mental
and emotional disorders in later life. The one-day conference, "Training
to Enhance Service Delivery to Older Adults with Mental Illness," will
be hosted in conjunction with four community colleges and experts in those
communities. The sites include Southwestern Community College in Creston (July
25); Iowa Lakes Community College in Emmetsburg (July 26); Northeast Iowa
Community College in Dubuque (July 29); and Indian Hills Community College
in Ottumwa (July 30). The program is funded by a nearly $100,000 grant from
the Iowa Department of Human Services.
"We hope the conference will stimulate interest and enthusiasm in local
communities, and move people toward making changes to better provide mental
health services to older adults across Iowa," said Marianne Smith, UI
advanced practice nurse in psychiatry and program leader for the grant. "The
group of older adults who will need this assistance is only going to increase
in the years to come."
The program will train professionals, paraprofessionals and community members
who work in aging services, health services, mental health delivery and funding
agencies that affect mental health service delivery for elders. Older adults
and their families, along with mental health consumers, were recruited to
participate in the planning committees at each site.
"The conference gives aging services providers, mental care providers,
community service agencies and funding sources a chance to sit at the same
table," Smith said. "This kind of dialogue can help improve systems
of care, particularly by keeping the focus on the strengths of individual
Smith said she expected about 200 people to sign up for the training. However,
more than 300 individuals already have enrolled, and all sites but Emmetsburg
are filled to capacity. Individuals who cannot attend the conference are encouraged
to review presentations online at www.uihealthcare.com/olderadults/.
Follow-up programs, open also to people who cannot attend the conference,
will be offered through the Iowa Communications Network (ICN) in August.
"In many situations involving older adults and mental health, it's
the action of one person that makes the difference in whether innovative models
are implemented," Smith said. "It's encouraging to see so many people
enroll in the training. We hope they will find the time and energy to take
additional steps when the conference is over. We realize everyone is under
pressure to 'do more with less.'"
Smith emphasized that training alone is not enough to change service delivery
systems, but it often is a necessary first step.
"Training is a stimulus for change. It gets people thinking. The greatest
barrier to change in delivering mental health services, particularly to older
adults, is lack of funding," Smith said. "However, if you don't
provide mental health promotion, prevention and treatment services, you ultimately
will have to provide the most expensive form of service, which is when people
reach a point of crisis and have to be institutionalized."
Older people often do not use traditional services. As a result, alternative
models that provide access to mental health care are very important.
"Access involves psychological access so that people are comfortable
using the services, as well as financial and geographical access so that people
can afford to use the services and to physically get to them," Smith
said. "Access also involves what we call longitudinal access, meaning
that the services will be there for a long time and that you count on them."
A problem with grant-funded mental health services is that when the funding
cycle ends, often so does the program itself. In addition, the Medicare system
has unequal coverage policies, for example, no outpatient drug coverage, and
has been identified by the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry as
a problem in providing consistent, comprehensive mental health care for elders.
Smith said she hopes that the conference will strengthen ways communities
can provide services over the long run to older people with mental health
"Even if funding is not available now, we're prudent to start planning.
We can create collaborative models that are acceptable to adults who need
the services so that when funding does become available, we will be prepared,"
she said. "If you believe in value, then you want to help these older
adults who built the state of Iowa. They're the backbone of what has happened
here, and they deserve quality care and a high quality of life."
A panel of local experts will address local issues and needs for each of
the four conference sites, and local planning committees have built support
for these programs. In addition to Smith, the UI-based program also will draw
on the expertise of five other speakers: Colleen Brems, UI advanced nurse
practitioner in the Adult Outpatient Psychiatric Clinic and Senior Care Outreach;
Kathleen Buckwalter, Ph.D., UI associate provost for health sciences and professor
of nursing; Brian Kaskie, Ph.D., UI assistant professor in health management
and policy; Paul Mulhausen; M.D., a geriatrician and UI assistant professor
of internal medicine (clinical); and Peter Zevenbergen, executive director
of Wyandotte Center in Kansas City, Kan., a community mental health center
that provides services to mentally ill persons of all ages.
University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between
the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and
Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and
services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at www.uihealthcare.com.