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University of Iowa News Release

June 21, 2004

New UI Social Work Professor Starts With $100,000 Grant

Mercedes Bern-Klug, who will join the University of Iowa faculty in August, will start with a $100,000 grant in hand. The new assistant professor of social work in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has been named a 2004 Hartford Faculty Scholar, a prestigious award that provides two years of support for her research on nursing home social workers.

Her main focus will be a nationally representative study of nursing home social workers to learn more about their role and the resources they need to provide psychosocial services to nursing home residents and family members.

The federal government holds nursing homes responsible for addressing the medically-related psychosocial needs facing the national's 1.6 million nursing home residents. Nursing homes with at least 120 beds are required to employ a full-time social worker, but those workers are not required to have a degree in social work.

"There is no consensus on the role of the nursing home social worker regarding psychosocial -- that is, emotional -- needs of residents, and there are no nationally representative data describing the characteristics and the capacity of the nursing home social work workforce," Bern-Klug said. "The goal of my project is to build knowledge about nursing home social workers and their capacity for addressing psychosocial issues facing older adults who are living and dying as nursing home residents. I will also address social work's role with helping family members of nursing home residents."

Through the Hartford Faculty Scholars Program, Bern-Klug will have the opportunity to interact with social work faculty from around the country who focus on geriatric issues. She will have a national research mentor, Rosalie Kane from University of Minnesota, and a UI mentor, Lorraine Dorfman, who was also Bern-Klug's mentor as a UI undergraduate.

A native of Sioux City, Bern-Klug earned her bachelor's degree in family development in 1982 and a master of social work and certificate in aging studies in 1984, all from the UI. She said she discovered her interest in aging as an undergraduate and has pursued it with vigor ever since.

"When I found out the university had a certificate program in aging, I was thrilled," she said. "I took as many aging classes as I could because I wanted to learn about the social and health issues that some people face in older adulthood."

After leaving the UI she went to Washington, D.C., where she worked at the National Institute on Aging and earned a master's degree in applied demography at Georgetown University in 1991. From there she went to the University of Kansas to pursue a doctorate and to work in the Center on Aging within the university's Medical Center.

At the UI, she will teach in the School of Social Work and the Aging Studies Program. Her areas of research and teaching interest include domestic and international aging, death and dying, nursing home care and consumer advocacy in funeral and burial arrangements.

The Hartford Faculty Scholars program was created to ensure that the country will have the necessary pool of trained and skilled geriatric social workers by creating faculty leaders specialized in geriatric research and teaching. It is estimated that there are over 600,000 practicing social workers in the U.S. While most social workers report that geriatric knowledge is needed in their professional work, less than five percent of all masters level students in social work, and approximately seven percent of doctoral level students specialize in aging. The Faculty Scholars Program aims to increase the visibility and desirability of geriatric social work so as to encourage faculty commitment to training social workers to meet the growing and specialized needs of an aging population.

The Gerontological Society of America administers the Hartford Faculty Scholars Program. The Society is a national organization of professionals in the field of aging and is dedicated to the promotion of scientific study. It is designed to encourage exchanges among researchers and practitioners and to foster the use of gerontological research in forming public policy.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACT(S): Media: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011,; Program: Mercedes Bern-Klug, 319-335-1250,