West Virginia has the second largest population of people aged 65 and older in the entire country after Florida, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Because of this, the nationwide lack of professionals in the field of gerontology is felt even more acutely in West Virginia.

Recognizing the need to draw awareness to the inadequate resources available, West Virginia University is taking the lead on establishing a workgroup of professionals who will discuss these implications and how to address them.

“West Virginia has the second oldest population in the country, and its elders have very unique challenges including poverty, lack of transportation, limited range of medical and social services and inadequate housing,” said Kristina Hash, who will be on the project’s advisory committee and is an associate professor in the Division of Social Work at WVU.

“Recruiting, training and retaining competent professionals in this field is crucial in assuring that older adults and their families in West Virginia receive the services that they need.”

The workgroup is looking to address three main goals: analyzing the educational needs of social workers and other helping professionals in regards to an aging population, creating a gerontology practitioner curriculum and certificate, and finding ways to recruit practitioners to fields that work with the elderly. The University already offers a certificate in gerontology for students who are enrolled at the University, but this new certificate will allow for more flexibility for professionals in the field by not requiring that they enroll in a graduate or undergraduate program.

The workgroup will begins its meetings this month to discuss plans for the development of a survey to be distributed via professional mailing lists and listservs. Direct care workers will be asked to fill out this survey, which will provide the workgroup with information about where they might be lacking in aging education. It will also provide them with information and suggestions about how to recruit and maintain a group of professionally trained workers in these fields.

“The results from this survey will inform the development of a gerontology practitioner certificate and curriculum,” Hash said. “This certificate would be attained through continuing education focused on aging, such as workshops offered at the Summer Institute on Aging and the Long Term Care Conference, as well as some online sessions.”

In the past, a certificate like this was offered through the WVU Center on Aging. However, that certificate program has not been active for a decade. This new program will focus on the specific problems facing the aging population in Appalachia.

“The emphasis is on understanding the unique challenges of older adults in Appalachia and other rural areas, as well as knowledge of the historical and cultural perspectives that influence status,” said Karen Harper-Dorton, chair of the Division of Social Work.

The division has recently been awarded a grant from West Virginia Long Term Care Partnership to help cover the costs of the research and the start-up of the certificate program, for which Hash is the primary investigator.

“This grant will help cover the cost of implementing the survey, as well as instructor time and effort to develop online courses that can count towards the GP Certificate. This will help us offer the GP Certificate to a broader audience,” said Jacki Englehardt, professional and community education coordinator for the Division, who is a co-investigator on the grant.

This project is one of four being funded by the West Virginia Long Term Care Partnership.

For more information, contact Kristina Hash, associate professor in the Division of Social Work, at (304) 293-8807 or kmhash@mail.wvu.edu.



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