Hartford Center to address geriatric health education with $110K Highmark grant

March 25, 2014

University Park, Pa. -- The Penn State College of Nursing has received a $110,000 grant from the Highmark Foundation to help address a lack of geriatric education among rural health care providers in Pennsylvania.

The Hartford Center of Geriatric Nursing Excellence at Penn State, housed in the College of Nursing, has teamed up with the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health (PORH) for a collaborative project to improve rural geriatric care in Pennsylvania’s critical access hospitals (CAHs). “Improving Rural Geriatric Care Through Education” will design a continuing education program that will meet the needs of CAHs, and the regions they serve, using distance-learning technology.

“The need for continuing education was the top priority expressed by CAH staff and hospital administration in a recent report released by PORH,” said Harleah Buck, assistant professor of nursing and co-director of the Hartford Center, who serves as project director for the grant. “They identified inadequate funding for education and professional development as the greatest barrier to maintaining competence and skills.”

To address these needs, the Hartford Center has established a foundation of geriatric-rich continuing education programs for Pennsylvania nurses. The Hartford Center has a history of delivering geriatric education to health care providers using distance technology.

Authorized as part of the federal Balanced Budget Act of 1997, CAHs were established to provide rural communities with access to acute care. These small and typically isolated facilities — 13 of which are located in Pennsylvania — provide care to a large and growing number of older adults with multiple chronic illnesses.

A 2008 Institute of Medicine report, Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce, called attention to the lack of an adequately prepared geriatric health care workforce. While the number of older adults is expected to double over the next two decades, geriatric education for direct health care providers is flatlining, and levels of geriatric knowledge and skill are low among all disciplines.

“Lack of provider knowledge has a direct impact on both the quality and cost of care delivered to older adults in rural Pennsylvania,” Buck said. “This investment by the Highmark Foundation will allow the College of Nursing to provide critical professional development to health care providers in these rural settings.”

“We at Highmark strive to improve the health of the communities we serve,” added Rosemary Browne, Highmark Foundation senior corporate giving analyst. “That’s why we’re proud to partner with the Penn State College of Nursing to further geriatric health education among nurses caring for older persons in rural Pennsylvania.”

The project’s goals are twofold. First, project staff will identify a registered nurse at each CAH to be a geriatric “site champion.” These nurses will be coached through the board certification process for gerontological nursing awarded by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Project funding will cover the cost of an online preparation course for national certification, as well as the certification itself.

Second, the project staff will design a continuing education program that meets the specific needs of Pennsylvania CAHs and the rural regions they serve. These sessions will be delivered using distance technology through online modules and videoconferencing.

“Combining our commitment to Pennsylvania’s rural communities with Penn State’s unsurpassed infrastructure for reaching these areas, the Hartford Center and PORH aim to improve geriatric health care in these populations by filling a significant gap: the lack of knowledgeable and skilled direct health care workers who can provide high-quality care to older adults,” Buck said.

The Hartford Center at Penn State, one of only eight such centers in the United States and the only rural center in the Northeast, is a community of nurse educators, clinicians and researchers whose leadership is actively improving health care for older adults. Established in 2007 with funding from the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Hartford Center at Penn State prepares nurse educators with both the passion and the expertise to create the future of gerontological nursing education and practice.

Established at Penn State in 1991, PORH works with local, state and federal partners to achieve equity in and access to high-quality health care for Pennsylvania’s rural residents. Its mission is to improve the health of these residents by disseminating information; strengthening the network of rural providers, planners and advocates; increasing interest in rural health needs and policy issues; and acting as a liaison among public and private health agencies and the general public.

Last Updated April 15, 2014