KINGSTON — A University of Rhode Island professor has been awarded a $3.75 million federal grant to improve health services for older adults.

The program comes at a crucial time. Rhode Island has the highest percentage of adults 85 and older in the country, with about 23,000 residents living with Alzheimer’s disease. It's the fifth-leading cause of death in the state, which is ranked 36th in the nation in terms of preventable hospitalizations among older adults.

With the grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, Phillip Clark, a professor in the College of Health Sciences, is leading a team that will try to develop an age- and dementia-friendly workforce.The Rhode Island Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program will support a five-year program to better train health care providers and integrate primary and geriatric care.

“The idea is to transform the care system for older adults and improve quality and outcomes," Clark said. “It’s workforce training, whether people are already providing care or they’re preparing to provide care.”

The program will bring together professionals live presentations, webinars, and real-time case discussions. In one program, expert teams will use videoconferencing to provide geriatrics education to community providers recruited by the program:  primary care doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, and other clinicians.

Clark plans to begin the program in early 2020, and is recruiting health care groups to lead sessions and take part in them, ideally including students, as well as professionals from the same practice to promote a team-based approach. The goal is to educate more than 5,000 clinicians and future clinicians during the five years of the project.

“It’s a team-based model representing different professions who would receive the same training to integrate their care,” Clark said.

Presentations will cover such elder care topics as fall prevention, multiple medication prescribing, and dementia care. Continuing education credits will be available for select health care professionals. The program will be based at Healthcentric Advisors, a nonprofit health care quality improvement organization with offices in Providence, Brunswick, Maine, and Woburn, Mass.

The Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program will also seek to evaluate the effectiveness of the training and its effect on the older adult population of the state through an examination of medical records.

“We’ll evaluate the result of the educational programs on changing provider clinical behavior,” Clark said. “Do physicians change their patterns .... Are we providing a big enough dose of education to move the needle on provider behavior and patient outcomes?”

More information on theproject is available on the organization’s website — uri.edu/rigec.

“We’re promoting an age-friendly approach for health care providers," Clark said. He added, "If we’re really serious about providing quality elder care, these are the kind of really basic, on-the-ground things that we have to do. Let’s try to keep older people healthy and out of the hospital.”

Other partners in the program are Brown University, Rhode Island College, Care New England Health System, Integra Community Care Network, Care New England Medical Group, Care Transformation Collaborative, RI Primary Care Physicians Corporation, and the Alzheimer’s Association of Rhode Island.

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