OHSU School of Nursing Wins Prestigious Grant to Improve the Health of the Elderly

12/06/00    Portland, Ore.

The Oregon Health Sciences University School of Nursing has won a prestigious award from the John A. Hartford Foundation of New York City to improve the quality of health care for elderly Americans. The $1.3 million, five-year grant establishes a Hartford Center for Geriatric Nursing Excellence at OHSU, one of five such awards recently given by the private philanthropic group. The other schools are the University of Arkansas, the University of California at San Francisco, the University of Iowa and the University of Pennsylvania.

"Hartford's Board of Trustees approved these grants to build academic geriatric nursing capacity. As one of the nation's outstanding authors of gerontological nursing, the OHSU School of Nursing will add considerable strength to the Foundation's geriatric initiative," said Corinne H. Rieder, Ed.D., executive director of the John A. Hartford Foundation.

"The health of elders is one of, if not the, major public health issue confronting health care researchers and clinicians worldwide," says Patricia G. Archbold, D.N.Sc., professor of gerontological nursing at OHSU and director of the new Hartford Center. "In general, nurses are not well prepared to care for elders. One reason is that not many nursing school faculty members are well prepared to teach about elder care." Another barrier to good care is the difficulty of applying published research findings to practice.

OHSU's Hartford Center takes aim at these problems with three initiatives. The first is the Gerontological Nursing Best Practices Initiative, which will address the gap between research findings and the use of them in clinical practice. To overcome this information gap, the school has joined with several partners in the community: the Veterans Administration, Kaiser Permanente Northwest Region, the Holgate Center, and the state of Oregon Senior and Disabled Services Division. All of these groups are leaders in elder care in the region and have a positive history of working with OHSU's nursing school, according to Archbold.

Representatives of these groups - students and scholars, researchers, clinicians, health planners, administrators and policy makers - will meet quarterly to identify new and needed research to improve elder care; decide which best practices can realistically be adopted into the clinical setting and ways to monitor the introduction of these practices; and finally, conceive ideas on how to institutionalize the process of converting research to practice within organizations.

The next two initiatives focus on rapidly increasing the pool of nurses capable of scholarship in education, research and practice in gerontology. The Hartford grant hopes to help schools of nursing build up their own geriatric education programs by "teaching the teachers" and through a fast-track doctoral program to get nursing students through the education pipeline and into scholarly pursuits at a younger age.

A summer postdoctoral fellowship program for nursing faculty addresses the need for more gerontological nursing teachers. According to Lois Miller, Ph.D., assistant professor of gerontological nursing and associate director of OHSU's Hartford Center, the school expects to attract nurse educators and researchers from around the nation. She said the program is designed specifically for faculty who cannot take time from their jobs for the intensive two-year postdoctoral fellowship already in place at the school. Rather, they can complete a 17-month program that features two intensive, three-month summer sessions in Portland, with distance learning sandwiched between the two sessions.

The second education effort aims to attract younger nursing students into careers in gerontological nursing research. Many doctoral students come into the program in their late 30s and early 40s - 20 years beyond what's happened in other scientific disciplines. The idea of the Hartford fast-track program is for these nurses to have a longer career in front of them, according to Miller. The Hartford grant provides scholarship aid to nursing students in their senior year of a bachelor's program. On completion of their baccalaureate studies, students will then enter the doctoral program, which will take from three to five years to finish and offers tuition and financial support during that time.

"The funding of the center recognizes the years of seminal work of OHSU faculty in gerontological practice and research," says Kathleen Potempa, D.N.Sc., dean of the nursing school. "The faculty are international leaders in the care of older adults, and this center brings the additional prestige and support of a remarkable foundation which has the vision for advancing the knowledge base in gerontology and geriatrics. This center will be a partnership with community constituents who will change the care of older adults in Oregon for decades to come."

The nursing school has one of the country's premier gerontological nursing programs. It includes many well-funded research projects focused on improving health care to elders; nationally funded pre- and postdoctoral training; four campuses (Portland, Ashland, La Grande and Klamath Falls); access to elderly populations, including those residing in rural areas; and long-standing collaborative relationships with researchers, clinicians and policy makers throughout the state. The school also participates in the medical school's Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke centers, the new Center for Healthy Aging, and the Center for Ethics in Health Care (known for its work in end-of-life care).

The John A. Hartford Foundation, Inc., was established in 1929 as a private philanthropy. He and his brother, George L. Hartford, both former chief executives of the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, left the bulk of their estates to the foundation upon their deaths in the 1950s. Since 1995, the foundation has focused exclusively on improving the quality and financing of health care and enhancing the capacity of the health care system to accommodate the nation's growing elderly population.