West Virginia is getting older by the minute.

As the second largest population of older adults in the nation, Mountain State residents are now facing all the challenges that come with aging, including financial and health issues, as well as concerns about medical and social services.

Thats where social workers come in. But right now, there just arent enough of them to help since the gray wave is also cresting nationwide. Within three decades, in fact, some 70 million Americans will be 65 or olderyet today only 4 percent of the countrys social workers currently specialize in aging issues.

Kristina Hash, a WVU associate professor of social work, is part of a national movement educating professionals in social work to meet the needs of aging adults.

As principal investigator of three geriatric education grants in the Division of Social Work in the School of Applied Social Sciences, she is providing educational experiences and preparing undergraduate and graduate students for careers in aging services.

There is a national movement to build interest and growth in gerontology, as well as recruit and better prepare students, practitioners and agencies for the field,she said.With changing demographics and a projected shortage in health care professionals, we are in the midst of a crisis if social workers dont see the benefits of working with older adults.

As a teen, Hash cared for her grandmother, who suffered from dementia. That experience became the driving force behind her interest in social work and aging. She hopes to encourage others to take interest in gerontology by looking at the wide spectrum of aging services and disproving common myths about aging.

Funding for three projectsthe Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education, Curriculum Development Institute and BSW Experiential Learningis provided by the John A. Hartford Foundation, an organization committed to training, research and service to promote the health and independence of Americas older adults.

Hash will head the Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education, thanks to a $75,000 grant awarded over three years to develop a program that offers Master of Social Work students the opportunity to participate in hands-on experiences caring for older adults.

Multiple field rotations in home-based care, community centers, hospitals and nursing homes are available through partnerships between WVU and community agencies, making this program unique to traditional Master of Social Work courses.

Students from the Master of Social Work program across the state can earn credit by attending specialized seminars and completing course work centered on geriatric social work in rural areas.

The Curriculum Development Institute ensures graduates have the ability to work with older adults and their families by promoting and sustaining curricular and organizational change in social work programs. The three-year initiative will enhance foundational Master of Social Work courses at WVU with geriatric content and skill sets.

The BSW Experiential Learning project provides practical learning in aging for undergraduate social work students and aims to recruit others to careers working with the elderly.

Social workers frequently work with older adults and their families in settings that take in everything from child welfare to substance abuse and physical and mental health, but they arent typically prepared before actually encountering such situations in the field.

Leslie Tower, associate professor, and Linda Ferrise, clinical assistant professor and baccalaureate program director, are working with Hash to implement the BSW Experiential Learning program.

Tower will tailor a policy course to create an intergenerational class of co-learning between undergraduates and older adults. Hash will dispel misconceptions, negative attitudes and fears about aging in her course work.

Hash received two bachelors degrees in psychology and sociology from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., in 1990. She earned a Master of Social Work degree and a graduate certificate in gerontology from WVU in 1993 and 1996, respectively. In 2001, she received a doctoral degree in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University.

She has served aging adults in home health care, continuing education and community-based volunteer agencies. She is also an expert trainer for the Council on Social Work Educations National Center for Gerontological Social Work Education, and she participated in the first Institute on Aging and Social Work.

For more information, contact Hash at 304-293-3501 ext.3119 or ” KMHash@mail.wvu.edu rel=nofollow> KMHash@mail.wvu.edu .