News From the End-of-Life: Grants intended to boost geriatric nursing education

Separate programs promote care for the aging

The ramifications of an aging nursing faculty plus a nursing turnover rate of almost 26% are particularly serious for geriatric care, says Linda Hollinger-Smith, PhD, director of research at the Mather Institute on Aging in Evanston, IL. But the Learn, Empower, Achieve and Produce (LEAP) staff development program Hollinger-Smith started has reduced her facility’s turnover rate from 76% to 34% for certified nursing assistants and from 47% to 22% for RNs.

LEAP, begun as an initiative to help RNs in long-term care, is funded by a grant from the Health Resources and Service Administration. Mather LifeWays is using the funds in collaboration with nursing schools at three major universities to offer a web-based distance-learning program that gives nursing faculty in 26 states the latest geriatric nursing information.

The program consists of six on-line courses of eight weeks each that students may take at their own pace and can complete in about a year. Rush University in Chicago, Yale University in New Haven, CT, and the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee are partnering with Mather on the program, which allows nursing faculty to enter at any time during the three-year grant period.

Hollinger-Smith says she started LEAP in 1999 to help RNs, certified nursing assistants (CNAs), and practical nurses develop and remain in their health care careers. The program focuses on the so-called "soft skills" like learning how to communicate, developing positive relationships with supervisors and co-workers, and learning how to recognize and reward good behavior.

Hollinger-Smith says her program succeeds by building a "career ladder" that offers CNAs financial incentives for increasing their skills in specialized areas such as skin care or dementia care, for example.

One of the key elements of retention, Hollinger-Smith says, is providing a thorough orientation that makes new health care workers feel welcome in their workplace and encourages them to become mentors for those hired after them. "We’re focusing on this instead of on recruitment because all of the literature says there are not enough people in the wings waiting to enter the work force," explains Hollinger-Smith. She points out that over the next seven years there will be one million new positions for CNAs, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 400,000 women will be available to choose that career path. "Even if every one of them went into the direct care work force, there just aren’t enough people," Hollinger-Smith says. "We really have to focus on how we can better develop and retain the folks we have now."

ANA gets $5 million aging-care grant

The American Nurses Association (ANA) has also received $5 million to improve nursing skills for the aging through a five-year grant, "Enhancing Geriatric Competence of Specialty Nurses," that seeks to help more than 400,000 nurses deliver better care to aging adults.

The ANA will work with specialty nursing organizations to implement the grant, which has three goals:

  • creating permanent structures for geriatric activities in specialty nursing associations;
  • promoting gerontological certification of specialty nurses;
  • developing a Web-based comprehensive geriatric nursing resource center.

Virtually all nurses provide care to older adults at some point in their careers. Current demographics project that the over-65 population will double over the next 30 years, reaching 70 million by 2030. Those over age 85 are the fastest-growing segment of this population, which makes by far the biggest demand on health care services and facilities.

The grant is funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies and implemented through a strategic alliance between ANA and the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing.