School of Social Welfare
John A. Hartford Foundation
Government, Higher Ed - Public, NGO, Private, Other
The School of Social Welfare (SSW) at University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY) has sought to have greater community impact and to advance the region as a test site for possible program and policy innovations addressing unmet social needs. With grants from the John A. Hartford Foundation, SSW is making efforts to create an elder-friendly community, in which the services are directly catered to senior citizen’s needs. The pilot program has involved multiple actors from the government, foundations, health networks, and faith communities. And there are also other important participants in the design and implementation processes, such as insurers, caregivers, employers, aging services providers, and the aging persons themselves. The program has undertaken a variety of initiatives, including projects on elder-friendly community building and health promotion. A particularly important collaborative project was the creation of a distinguished online database, ElderNetworkNY.org. The SSW Internship in Aging Program became a national model that has been adapted and replicated in most graduate schools of social work. Recommendations based on Albany’s findings are offered for academic units and universities who partner with their communities.
Partnership efforts to create an elder-friendly community began with a grant awarded to the School of Social Work (SSW) by the John A. Hartford Foundation in 2000. It was awarded to develop students into leaders in the development of new services for the aging. The universities program for the students has two key components, a rotation program in various aging agencies and leadership projects. The leadership projects are student-led initiatives that develop new services for the aging and their families to provide more appropriate support. Two grants from the John A. Hartford Foundation were subsequently awarded to the SSW and its Center for Excellence in Aging Services (CEAS); one was for planning and the other for implementation.
The planning phase included more than 600 people involved in aging care, from government officials to the elderly people themselves. In addition, another 80 agencies and faith communities committed to participate in the implementation process.
The planning process used a mixed methodology of interviews with aging consumers, key decision makers and various stakeholders. Political leaders, aging advocates, faith community leaders and health system administrators were also included. Focus groups and interviews were held around such issues as transportation, discharge planning, and underserved communities. The focus groups explored the need for information and referral systems, reviewed existing databases and service delivery, and identified barriers to continued community living. Meetings were held with national experts as well as those who are affected the most and the least likely to be heard from—the elderly themselves. The interviewers were cognizant to include traditionally ignored elderly populations such as the frail elderly, the most impoverished and those living in remote rural areas.
A community advisory committee was convened to oversee the elder-friendly community-building initiative. It proved particularly difficult when trying to execute new programs because of the fragmentation of government and leadership in a region with more than 80 different elected governmental bodies. To solve the problem of fragmentation, the committee members consisted of commissioners of the Area Agencies on Aging in the region along with business and community leaders. They worked together to create a cross-county and regional strategy to address the needs of the senior citizens.
Health promotion initiatives were designed to expand the support services by first identifying critical needs and then offering evidence-based programs targeting disease management, exercise and nutrition. A key component of the initiatives has been the building of cadres of volunteers, often older volunteers, to expand caregiver support in a cost-effective manner. In particularly stressed communities in the region, there has also been an emphasis on developing health navigator programs and in promoting health screenings.
A centerpiece of this collaborative work has been the building of a web-based database, ElderNetworkNY.org, with information on all available services for older persons. This web-based service now gets more than 10,000 hits per week. Hundreds of older persons and their caregivers are served annually. Such web-based information is linked to in-person assistance through each county Area Agency on Aging and supports the statewide NYConnects long-term care information and assistance system. In the next iteration, the web resources will be embedded in a statewide NYConnects web-based resource modeled on this and other pilot work in the state.
The SSW Internship in Aging Program became a national model that has been adapted and replicated in most graduate schools of social work. The collaboration to develop ElderNetworkNY.org was unprecedented for the four counties in the Albany region involved. ElderNetwordNY.org was especially successful because the community advisory commissioners created a cross-county and regional strategy to address the needs of the senior citizens. This pilot program served as evidence that the regionalization of initiatives, including shared resources across many counties, could be a viable option for community building. As of Fall 2008, the partnership has made plans to create a pilot social work intern program, funded potentially through Medicaid. This pilot internship will test which competencies are required to help senior citizens navigate the long term care system. Such services thus help to divert seniors from unnecessary nursing home placements and attendant high costs such as Medicaid expenditures.