University of Montana

The University of Montana campus.

A University of Montana center has received a $3.75 million federal grant to educate health care workers and communities about geriatric care.

UM’s Montana Geriatric Education Center announced last week that the federal Health Resources & Services Administration had given it the award, which will be expended over the next five years on three main efforts: integrating geriatrics into primary care, developing an interprofessional geriatric workforce, and supporting older adults with caregivers in their communities.

“Because much of our population will be older adults” in the near future, “it’s really important that we prepare our health care workforce and our communities to prepare for the needs of the population,” said Terry Egan, the center’s associate director.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, more than 30% of Montana’s population will be over age 60. The Geriatric Education Center has worked to prepare the state for this trend. It was previously funded by a nearly four-year, $3 million grant awarded in 2015.

“We have three specific initiatives” that this new grant will support, Egan said. “The first one is to integrate geriatrics into primary care.”

The center plans to help its partner health care providers — including Partnership Health Center in Missoula, RiverStone Health in Billings and Mountain Pacific Quality Health Foundation in Helena — prepare their staffs to work with older adults. Egan identified early diagnosis of chronic diseases and annual wellness visits as two areas of focus.

The grant will also further the center’s work to develop an interprofessional geriatric workforce, essentially providing professional development and training to the workers who care for geriatric patients. The center plans to offer one such opportunity in October, hosting a conference on dementia.

The center’s third main goal with these funds is to support the community care that older adults receive.

“When you go to the community health centers ... you see a lot more older adults,” Egan said. “We do want to expand into more rural communities with our dementia grants.”

She said the Missoula Public Library’s “Memory Cafe” program was supported by one of these grants, and that the Geriatric Education Center aims to offer a new round of 18 to 20 community grants in September. It’s not yet known where they’ll go, although Egan hopes that they’ll reach communities in central Montana.

With an aging population, she said, “we need those kinds of resources in our communities.”

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