Fall 2016
Promoting a Better Understanding of Aging

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Patti Swager, left, and Peter Reed.

Combined Experience

Patti Swager, director of the Nevada Geriatric Education Center, and Peter Reed, Ph.D., MPH, director of the Sanford Center for Aging are working together to improve services delivered to northern Nevada seniors. Photo by Anne McMillin.

NGEC Joins Sanford Center for Aging

Story by Dean Schermerhorn, APR

"The Nevada Geriatric Education Center's mission is to improve the health care delivered to older adults by providing education, information and resources to health care professionals and faculty," said Patricia Swager, M.Ed., center director.

To complete this mission, the NGEC has trained licensed health care professionals, worked with faculty to enhance their knowledge or to integrate geriatric content into their curriculum and looked at training opportunities for students for more than 20 years.

On July 1, 2016, the Nevada Geriatric Education Center became part of the Sanford Center for Aging, which has a complementary mission to enhance the quality of life and well-being of elders throughout Nevada through translational research, education and community outreach.

"Our primary focus has been the provider education, so this [integration] allows us to expand our clinical education opportunities," said Swager.

The joining of the two organizations promises to expand and improve the care and services delivered to the region's aging population by the Sanford Center for Aging.

"There is a natural, substantive fit between the work of the Nevada Geriatric Education Center and the work of the Sanford Center for Aging, in that we are both focused on promoting a better understanding of aging and enhancing available support services," said Peter Reed, Ph.D., MPH, director, Sanford Center for Aging.

The two organizations have historically served different audiences, with the Sanford Center looking to raise awareness of aging issues across the entire population, while the NGEC is focused on helping to increase understanding of aging and strategies for supporting elders among professionals.

One of the many benefits of this new partnership is the support that NGEC will provide for a major strategic initiative of the Sanford Center: its comprehensive geriatric specialty clinic. Embedded in this clinic is a strong educational component, including clinical training for multiple health disciplines, which is right in the wheelhouse of the NGEC, said Reed.

"Having the decades of expertise coming out of the NGEC helping to train professionals on how to provide high-quality geriatric care, infused into the clinical training opportunities that we are trying to offer with our new clinic, is a really great collaboration which I think is going to make our efforts more successful," said Reed.

"We have the geriatric lecture series, which addresses provider education. We have a contract with the Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division, through which we are working to train the employees who provide support services for older adults. We are helping to educate them, and hope that education trickles down to the people that they serve," said Swager.

NGEC also has a contract to provide live training for rural caregivers in Carson City, Winnemucca and Elko. They augment this live training by offering interactive video training and posting videos of those training sessions on the NGEC website.

In the past year, NGEC and the Sanford Center have hosted a series of telehealth education workshops in partnership with Project ECHO, which is the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine's telehealth education platform for providers in rural communities.

Moving forward, NGEC and the Sanford Center plan on making monthly Project ECHO presentations. With a more interdisciplinary approach to Project ECHO, the new team will be better able to meet the needs of elders with chronic conditions needing a range of support services.

Steven L. Phillips, M.D., medical director, Sanford Center for Aging, noted that rural Nevada has quite limited clinical resources, and Project ECHO provides a vital link by bringing added educational resources and consultation services from UNR Med to the rural outreach clinics.

"We are not just the educational component of telehealth; we are the actual face-to-face with clinics and clients through telemedicine, where we actually deliver clinical services along with education. We will be one of the first in the country achieving this integration," said Phillips.

Swager noted that this ability to provide telemedicine consultation will mean that elders will not need to drive to Reno or Salt Lake City for specialty treatment. It provides a similar benefit for rural physicians, who can consult with a physician in Reno directly via Project ECHO while remaining near his or her rural practice.

Looking ahead, the services offered by NGEC and the Sanford Center will continue to expand. The education that NGEC brings helps health care professionals and students learn to engage elders more fully in the services offered by the Sanford Center.

Telemedicine and other NGEC initiatives also promote the clinical education that the Sanford Center is developing for health care professions, ultimately to include those in medicine, nursing, social work and others, all of whom will gain an understanding of elder care by watching providers in the clinical setting. Reed explained that Swager will be building in exposure to the delivery of telemedicine, so students can gain that perspective and experience.

Phillips noted that creating this more unified approach to serving elders in the community makes the Sanford Center more competitive in attracting federal grant funds. It also is attracting the interest of health systems, provider groups and insurers, who are interested in the new combined portfolio of educational and clinical services available under the Sanford Center umbrella.

Reed also pointed out that the integration and the resulting enhancements create economies of scale, so that the Sanford Center is able to do more with less. The integration will help reduce administrative expenses, which means that the savings can be funneled back into programs that benefit the public.

Phillips observed that the Sanford Center is driven to sustain its current services and to expand on them. "We do that by becoming good stewards of the resources that we have," Phillips said.

Reed affirmed that the team approach is integral to the Sanford Center's success.

"At the Sanford Center for Aging we have created a culture of collaboration," Reed said.

"So for us to be able to welcome and embrace another center as a part of our larger enterprise, it means that we are able to support each other and be champions for each other's programs in a way that makes it all successful and creates a greater impact. This culture makes all of us work more effectively in serving elders in the different ways that we do."

The progress of the Sanford Center for Aging in the past several years has made this successful integration possible, Phillips observed.

"The Sanford Center for Aging is at a point of being so collaborative with NGEC, the community and vice versa, that it was a natural," said Phillips. "It is a complement. Both have grown from it and are stronger for it."

Support for the integration extended to UNR Med's leadership. Swager noted that everyone had an open mind and asked, ‘What is going to be the most beneficial and the most logical?'

Besides this support, the decision to integrate was based on sound business principles. As Reed described the process: "I always think from a management philosophy: Mission driven, evidence-based and business oriented. All of those boxes got checked successfully. So we were able to use that data to inform the conversation with our leadership so that while they were supportive, we were not just jumping into it. It was a thoughtful decision about how we could better serve elder Nevadans."

Services that Meet Elders' Needs

The programs and services offered through the Sanford Center for Aging are designed to improve the quality of life for elders. These include:

  • The Gerontology Academic Program: an interdisciplinary academic program that offers a certificate or minor in gerontology for students at the University of Nevada, Reno.
  • Community Wellness Programs: workshops to assist participants in gaining confidence and skills to maintain an active and fulfilling lifestyle.
  • Medication Therapy Management Program: offers medication reviews for Nevadans age 60 or older who take five or more prescription medications.
  • Senior Outreach Services: offers companionship to frail seniors living alone.
  • Retired and Senior Volunteer Program: matches those who want to share their time, skills and experience with local agencies and programs to benefit our community.
  • The Sanford Center Geriatric Clinic: where a team of professionals conducts a geriatric assessment and works with the client and care partner to create a care plan that matches their needs and interests to community resources.

The NGEC, which focuses on provider education, will continue to offer:

  • Geriatric Lecture Series, which now provides three hours of training every quarter
  • Rural caregiver trainings in partnership with Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division
  • Annual caregiver conference in partnership with Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division
  • New Project ECHO offerings focusing on geriatric care