When Eskenazi Health doctors have an elderly patient struggling to find a ride to an appointment, they talk to Greg Gorden. If their patient is struggling to live alone, but doesn’t want to go to a nursing facility, they call Greg Gorden. In fact, CICOA’s field operations manager is so well known at Eskenazi, many refer to him as CICOA Greg.
This wasn’t happening three years ago. Back then, a lot of physicians didn’t even know CICOA, and those who had heard about the organization didn’t fully understand just how many services CICOA provides to seniors and people with disabilities.
That all has changed thanks to a nearly $2.6 million grant Indiana University School of Medicine received for the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP) from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. IU was one of only 44 organizations across the country to receive the grant, which was created to help health organizations provide better health care for older adults and better training for those who care for them. To help IU accomplish those goals, they teamed up with CICOA and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Initially, CICOA’s role was to provide training to physicians and medical students so they would better understand resources and services that CICOA could offer their patients. Over the last three years, the partnership has evolved. In addition to training, Gorden participates in as many as three case conferences a week, in which a medical team consults with him about potential services that CICOA may be able to help with, such as meals, in-home care or home accessibility modifications for those at risk of falling.
“It’s a true relationship between Eskenazi and CICOA. They feel comfortable and are knowledgeable about the services we provide.”Donata Barnes, CICOA’s director of Healthcare Collaborations
That wasn’t always the case. Before GWEP, there were virtually no communications between the physician and CICOA, so there was not the kind of collaboration that can improve a patient’s medical and emotional outcomes. Today, the organizations are working together.
In addition to the work Gorden is doing within eight Eskenazi clinics around the city, CICOA assisted with the development of educational material for social workers to support key geriatric topics, such as medication management, caregiving and older adult syndromes.
The program has been so successful that IU School of Medicine asked for – and received – a one-year extension on the program, which had been slated to end in July 2018. This year, the two organizations are continuing to partner, but they also are working on developing better data to demonstrate just how successful GWEP has been in improving health outcomes.
GWEP’s focus has been on primary care centers including not only clinical staff, but also support staff, so even the people who work the front desk are trained to recognize whether a patient is exhibiting signs of depression or cognitive impairment. If a patient mentions having trouble with transportation, that’s also noted, and the entire team becomes more aware of the overall health and well-being of the patient, said Kathy Frank, geriatrics program administrator at IU School of Medicine. Frank also is on the CICOA Board of Directors.
Frank wants to make sure the GWEP work is sustainable and outlives the funding, which ends in a year. Not only have the partnerships with external organizations such as CICOA and Alzheimer’s Association been beneficial, but it’s helping improve relations within the School of Medicine, too. For the first time, school of nursing, school of social work and school of medicine all sat in the same room to discuss how to better promote the practice of geriatrics to prospective medical students, Frank said.
Many students may not be exposed to geriatrics care, and GWEP provides an opportunity for an introduction into geriatrics and also connects students with practitioners in the field who can become role models or mentors.
Data is still being collected to determine the impact of GWEP, but Frank knows CICOA is getting more referrals for patients in need, because primary care physicians and their staffs have more education and confidence in referring their patients to CICOA. “How do we sustain these things, so this becomes a habit and is part of the whole, not something extra?” Frank asked. “That’s where we’re headed now.”