Fairfield University's School of Nursing awarded major federal grant to instruct nurses in caring for elderly in southwestern Connecticut


Fairfield University's School of Nursing was awarded a $414,443 grant from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that will build upon the School's initiative to improve care of older adults in southwestern Connecticut. The combined six years of funding for the initiative – totaling about $882,000 - make it the largest continued funded grant to the School of Nursing.

The funding is from the DHHS Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for the School's ongoing educational program entitled, "Expanded Learning and Dedication to Elders in the Region (ELDER) Project." At the heart of the ELDER Project is teaching registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and nurses aides best practices adapted from resources at the Hartford Institute and Geriatric Education Centers for caring for the community's growing senior citizen community.

Implemented in 2006, the project has involved partnerships between the School of Nursing and four area healthcare agencies - Southwest Community Health Center in Bridgeport, the VNS of Connecticut in Bridgeport, The Carolton Rehabilitation Hospital in Fairfield, and St. Joseph's Manor in Trumbull. They represent the continuum of care for older adults: a community health center, two long-term care facilities, and one home health agency. It is at those facilities that RNs, LPNs and nurses aides have received best practice instruction by Fairfield faculty on such vital skills as how to do a physical assessment of a patient's heart and lungs.

Jeanne Novotny, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, dean of the School of Nursing, said the goal is to contribute to the career growth and professional development of area nurses. "We look forward to continuing to share our resources and faculty to provide seniors in the community with highly skilled nurses." 

Administrators and participants at the four partner agencies rated the project as instrumental in improving their care practices. Feedback also revealed that additional work in team building, cultural competence, and end of life care would be very worthwhile, prompting the School of Nursing to apply for another HRSA grant. Additional partners for this second phase include the Visiting Nurses Association in Stratford, Connecticut.

The ELDER Project has built upon prior grants the School of Nursing has been awarded for geriatric nursing education and is an example of its extensive community outreach and public health efforts. The School's project leaders have strong backgrounds in geriatrics. They are Jean W. Lange, Ph.D., RN, professor of nursing and Diana R. Mager, DNP, RNc, director of the School of Nursing Robin Kanarek '96 Learning Resource Center.

Dr. Lange explains that this request for continued funding was because "the ELDER Project has the potential to substantially benefit underserved older adults by helping caregivers understand the cultural implications in the care they give, work more collaboratively with other health team members to prevent potential complications, and have the tools they need to address end-of-life concerns of patients and their families."

The grant provides funding for the ELDER Project through mid-2012. A 2006 HRSA grant of $467,645 led by Philip Greiner, DNSc, RN, associate dean for Public Health and Entrepreneurial Initiatives and Dr. Lange, provided initial funding through June, 2009. Thus far, the ELDER Project has educated 107 nurses and nursing assistants. Services have included educational sessions, the provision of educational materials to champions at each agency, and on-site simulated patient scenarios that validated participants' ability to apply what they learned toward better care of older adults. The champion training model is designed to ensure that new staff will continue to benefit from the grant initiative even after the funding period is over.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on September 2, 2009

Vol. 42, No. 45