Formerly IGSW News | VOLUME 23 | FALL 2016

Issues and Views

CADER customized training for staff, Year 2

Senior Centers Can Be Gateway to Mental Health Care

By Kathy Kuhn

It's been four years since the Institute of Medicine reported a crisis in mental health care for older Americans, calling for more trained workers and better access to care. Yet many older adults with mental health concerns still do not have the help they need. Access and workers trained in mental health and aging remain among the most pressing needs for local aging-services agencies.

One pioneering effort, the Behavioral Health and Aging Project, is addressing both of these challenges. Now at the end of its second year, the project shows how Senior Centers and Councils on Aging—core community-service organizations for older adults that are found in many localities—can be gateways to mental health services for older adults and a source of quality onsite mental health training for center staff.

The Behavioral Health and Aging Project is a collaboration between Boston University's Center for Aging & Disability Education & Research (CADER) and the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging and Senior Center Directors (MCOA), with funding from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Suicide Prevention Program. Impetus for the project came from the high rates of unrecognized, undiagnosed, and untreated mental health issues seen in older adults in the state.

A focus on Senior Centers seemed natural because they serve the entire community. Not only older adults and their families and caregivers, but also friends, neighbors, and law-enforcement and healthcare agencies turn to Senior Centers for assistance when older adults have mental health problems. Because of the complexity of these problems, training in mental health was seen as the first step. The location in Senior Centers, then, would naturally increase access to trained workers.

Over the past two years, CADER has trained staff from Senior Centers in Massachusetts with a customized version of the CADER Behavioral Health in Aging Certificate Program. A blended model of online and face-to-face courses and discussion provides a learning experience tailored to the participants' needs. The program is based on the latest in theory, research, and practice. Courses emphasize development of practice skills and include discussions of screening, engagement and relationship formation, assessment, intervention, and resources and referrals. Participants who complete the program receive a certificate and continuing education credits.

Results. The training has been a success by a number of measures. For example, pre-test, post-test increases in competency were substantial for participants in all four courses. In course evaluations, an average of 98 percent of participants agreed or strongly agreed that the training expanded their knowledge and understanding of the topic area. An average of 97 percent of participants agreed or strongly agreed that the training would help them in their work with older adults and people with disabilities.

As Cindy Hickey, a course participant and director of the Somerville Council on Aging, put it, "Every Council on Aging director should take this course.… I came in thinking that I really understood mental health issues. However, I learned so much more than I thought I would."

Another course participant, Kathleen Barrett, outreach coordinator at the Falmouth Council on Aging, said, "This course has given me a clearer understanding of all the issues that need to be taken into consideration when assessing a client for suicide risk."

Kathy Kuhn, M.S.W., is director of workforce development at CADER. For more information about tailoring the CADER Behavioral Health in Aging Certificate Program for your organization, contact Kathy Kuhn at 617-358-2626.

Boston University photo of Kathy Kuhn

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CADER Behavioral Health in Aging Certificate

With CADER's Behavioral Health in Aging Certificate Program, social workers and other health and social service providers develop the skills they need to understand, identify, and respond to older adults who have cognitive and behavioral health concerns in any practice setting. The program is flexible, with online and face-to-face courses. Topics include dementia, depression, suicide prevention, and substance use and abuse. For more information or to sign up (use code ENEWS2016 for a 10 percent discount).

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Copyright © 2016 Trustees of Boston University. All rights reserved. This article may not be duplicated or distributed in any form without written permission from the publisher: Center for Aging & Disability Education & Research, Boston University School of Social Work, 264 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215, U.S.A.; e-mail: