Beverly Lunsford, a George Washington University assistant professor of nursing, believes a health care crisis is brewing.
With a baby boomer turning 65 every eight seconds, the number of adults 65 and older is expected to nearly double between 2005 and 2030. Many of these older adults will have three to five chronic diseases, and the nation’s health care system is not prepared to handle the changes.
“The nation faces a health care crisis with significant increases in the older adult population, coupled with their complex chronic health care needs and with a lack of trained health care professionals to care for this population surge,” said Dr. Lunsford, director of GW’s Center for Aging, Health & Humanities and the director of the Washington DC Area Geriatric Education Center Consortium.
To help respond to this crisis, Dr. Lunsford and Sandra Davis, assistant professor of nursing and the Adult NP Program director, applied for and received a grant to integrate gerontology into the School of Nursing’s adult nurse practitioner curricula so that more nurse practitioners will be better educated to treat the aging population.
Although older adults make up only about 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for about 26 percent of all physician office visits, 47 percent of all hospital outpatient visits with nurse practitioners, 35 percent of all hospital stays, 38 percent of all emergency medical service responses and 90 percent of all nursing home use.
The three-year $790,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, of which Dr. Lunsford is the principal investigator and Dr. Davis is the co-principal investigator, will also provide tuition support for 17 students in the Adult Nurse Practitioner Master of Nursing Program, many of whom live and practice in underserved areas.
The Adult Nurse Practitioner Master of Nursing Program is one of five School of Nursing’s online master’s programs, which allow professional nurses to advance their education while working full-time. Thanks to the assistance of the grant, the Adult Nurse Practitioner Program will transition into the new population-focused Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (NP) Program beginning in August next year. This switch is also spurred by the National Consensus Model for Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) Regulation, which requires all schools to transition to the new Adult-Gerontology NP Program by 2015.
“This grant is critical to preparing nurse practitioners for caring for the most complicated patients – elders. Geriatric care has not been the big draw for clinicians because it is hard, challenging work. Patients come in with a problem list of 20 significant health issues and are on 12 or more medications. Unwinding what is hurting them and helping them takes knowledge and skills beyond what has been generally taught in adult NP programs,” said SON Dean Jean Johnson. “With the aging of our population, we will be woefully short of any clinician with expertise to handle the elder care. Our program will add experts to the pool.”
GW’s new Adult-Gerontology NP Program is a 48 credit-hour program with 600 clinical hours and will be available on a full-time and part-time basis. SON will also offer an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Certificate Program for professionals already holding a master’s degree in nursing.
Erin Bowers, M.S.N. ’10, is one of the 17 students who have received a partial scholarship thanks to the adult gerontology education grant. Ms. Bowers, who is the manager of the palliative care department at Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Fla., and is in GW’s Adult NP program, is excited the curricula will be integrated to include specialized gerontology knowledge.
“The majority of my patients are in the geriatric age group so I need to know how to take care of special situations that we’re going to continue to see as the population changes,” said Ms. Bowers. “There are different medications and different changes in organ systems, and we don’t have enough health care providers to take care of this age group.”
The grant will also integrate patient engagement into the curriculum so nurse practitioners can better engage their patients to take a more proactive role in their health care. And because the new Adult-Gerontology NP program will give nurses the skills to treat adolescents, young adults, middle-aged adults and the elderly, the continuum of care will be enhanced.
“It is critical that nurse practitioners have the knowledge and skills to provide individualized care,” said Dr. Lunsford. “Adults continue to grow and develop throughout their lifetime, but when there are comorbid health conditions, health care professionals tend to focus on the health problems. But we need to see the older adult as someone with continuing potential, who lives within the context of their family and community. This is what gives our lives meaning and value.”