Geriatric Workforce program at URI aims to improve elder health care

Phillip Clark leads $3.75 million project to train health care workforce

Media Contact: Patrick Luce, 401-874-4046 |

KINGSTON, R.I. — Aug. 22, 2019 — A University of Rhode Island professor has been awarded a $3.75 million federal grant to improve health services for older adults.

And it couldn’t come at a more crucial time as Rhode Island has the highest percentage of adults 85 and older in the country, with about 23,000 Rhode Island residents living with Alzheimer’s disease, the fifth-leading cause of death in the state. With the state ranking 36th in the nation in terms of preventable hospitalizations among older adults, there is a critical need for enhancement of the geriatric health care workforce in the state.

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

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

The program brings together professionals across the health care spectrum for live presentations, webinars and real-time case discussions on various topics affecting older adult care. In one program, expert teams will use multi-point videoconferencing to provide geriatrics education to community providers RI-GWEP will recruit. In this way, primary care doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other clinicians learn to provide excellent care to patients in their own communities, and can learn from each other in live discussions on the website.

Clark plans to begin the program in early 2020, and is now 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 — doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, and other professions — 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. “It is a virtual, real-time presentation and discussion platform. People are actually sitting down at the same time for a presentation; a virtual discussion online. Providers benefit from specialized knowledge and expertise of the presenters and participants.”

Presentations will cover such elder care topics as fall prevention, multiple medication prescribing, dementia care and more. In addition to the live presentations, educational webinars will be archived on the site, and there is the possibility of in-person seminars. Continuing education credits will be available for select health care professionals. The program will be based at Healthcentric Advisors, a nonprofit healthcare quality improvement organization.

Beyond providing education, the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program also seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of the training and its effect on the older adult population of the state. Through an examination of electronic medical records from participating practices, doctor self-reporting and records of care services provided, Clark and his team aim to find out how much impact the five-year project will make.

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

While the project website is not yet live, more information on the RI Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Project is available on the organization’s website — uri.edu/rigec.

“We’re promoting an age-friendly approach for health care providers. A lot of this age-friendly language is catching on,” Clark said. “But the reality is most providers don’t do this. 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.”

Partners in the program, in addition to URI and Healthcentric Advisers, include 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.