Caring for the elderly

Working Together to Improve Geriatric Health

Jennifer Syltie Johnson

The Minnesota Northstar Geriatric Enhancement Program (MN GWEP) is a leader in collaboration and outreach with GWEPs across the country


The Minnesota Northstar Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program (MN GWEP) was formed in 2019 with a mission to improve the health care and health of older adults across the state of Minnesota.

Nationwide, Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Programs are funded from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The MN GWEP has received additional funding from the Otto Bremer Trust Foundation and is also supported by the Office of Academic Clinical Affairs. HRSA supports 49 GWEPs in the United States across 35 states and 2 territories, with the purpose of improving health outcomes for older adults by developing a health care workforce that maximizes patient and family engagement, and by integrating geriatrics and primary care.

Since its formation, Minnesota Northstar GWEP has been focused on its statewide mission, while maintaining a spirit of collaboration with other GWEPs across the nation. This cooperative spirit has been beneficial in MN GWEP’s efforts to improve geriatrics training for health professionals, community outreach and engagement, and its focus on age-friendly care and learning. The MN GWEP team includes widely-known experts in geriatrics and aging, so it is natural that this team cooperates with other leading experts to advance the GWEP mission.

Special Interest Groups address Age-Friendly issues

Rajean Moone, PhD, LNHA/LALD, FGSA, faculty director, Long-Term Care Administration and associate director of education for the University’s Center for Healthy Aging & Innovation in the School of Public Health, serves on two special interest groups with other GWEPs across the nation.  

The first Inter-GWEP group is Long-Term Services and Support, which addresses the whole spectrum of services and supports available to older adults and family members.

“This group addresses everything from home-delivered meals to age-friendly health systems,” said Moone. “We discuss the different components available to help clinical providers ensure they are providing geriatric-competent care in different settings.”

According to Moone, these services and supports are typically applied to acute care settings such as clinics and hospitals, and the group is addressing how to extend and expand to long-term care and nursing home settings.

Moone and his colleagues wrote an editorial published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging earlier this year. “Applying the Age-Friendly Health System Framework to Long-Term Care Settings,” which outlined framework for Age-Friendly health systems.

A second interest group, for which Moone serves as the convener, addresses the needs of LGBTQ+ older adults.

“In Minnesota, we are consistently ranked as the first- or second-best state for long-term services or supports for older adults,” said Moone. “By and large, Minnesotans age very well, and we have a robust system of services and supports, but that’s not true for everyone. When you look at different sub-communities, you see stark disparities.

In Minnesota, studies show that more than 90 percent of care provided to vulnerable adults is provided by friends and family members. Older LGBTQ adults are less likely to have children, and we know this presents great challenges as most of the care to older adults in Minnesota is unpaid and often provided by biological family members,” said Moone. “We need to think of diverse definitions of family. This GWEP group is addressing how we help to understand the unique lives, circumstances and experiences of this population. The LGBTQ older adult community tends to rely more strongly on families of choice.”

Moone notes that one interesting statistic with the Minnesota LGBTQ older adult population is that they are more likely to have a health care directive than non-LGBTQ older adults.

“These groups are addressing the challenges of equity, community engagement and disparities for older adult populations,” said Moone. “We’re very excited for what the future has to hold for the MN GWEP, and our partnership with other GWEPs across the nation has really helped us—and we’ve helped them. We are aiming for innovation in our work.”

Geriatric Case Competition offers graduate and undergraduate students a unique learning opportunity

Jean Wyman, PhD, RN, FGSA, FAAN, professor and Cora Meidl Siehl Chair in Nursing Research, has worked closely with Saint Louis University’s Geriatric Education Center—a GWEP formed in 2015—to develop a merged Interprofessional Geriatric Case Competition for University students. In 2020, the MN GWEP and Saint Louis University’s GWEP presented a virtual case competition to a total of 117 undergraduate and graduate students from a wide variety of health profession training programs.

“We worked with St. Louis University to develop a Geriatric Case Competition based on their successful format and collaborated on a virtual, inter-GWEP competition,” said Wyman. “The feedback has been very positive from students, coaches and judges. It’s a fun experience and the complex case brings in so many different aspects of geriatric care beyond each participant’s discipline.”

Laura Pejsa, PhD, director of evaluation at the University’s National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education, helped create the evaluation tools used in the case competition. Pejsa also serves as the lead evaluator for the MN GWEP with responsibility for reporting metrics and narrative reports on its accomplishments.

“We share the story of the work we are doing educating students, medical residents and fellows, and outreach work to educate patients, families and communities,” said Pejsa. “We work together to keep track of and share the story of the MN GWEP. We aim to continuously improve what we are doing.”

Pejsa helped the MN GWEP and St. Louis University GWEP collaboratively develop assessments for students to judge the case competition as it transitioned to a virtual event during the pandemic.

A total of 21 teams representing three to five health professions and a faculty coach competed in the competition. Faculty members served as judges for the team presentations. The 2020 winning team was from the University of Minnesota and was awarded a cash prize, and each participant in the winning team received a medallion for their participation. In 2021, the interprofessional geriatric case competition will once again be a virtual event in partnership with Saint Louis University.

Along with St. Louis University GWEP, the MN GWEP also works collaboratively with Dakota Geriatrics—a GWEP based at the University of North Dakota. In addition to building expertise on program evaluation, the University of Minnesota has joined forces in educational symposiums with Dakota Geriatrics. For example, a UMN expert in dementia —Robyn Birkeland, PhD, study interventionist with the Families and LTC Project, was invited to speak at the Dakota Geriatrics Dementia Friendly Healthcare and Community Virtual Symposium.

Although the mission of the Minnesota Northstar GWEP is to benefit Minnesota, these examples of collaboration enrich us all.

“The GWEPs across the country are served by a coordinating committee to help with inter-GWEP communication and coordination,” said Teresa Schicker, MPA, MN GWEP program manager.

To support these efforts, the John A. Hartford Foundation has funded the GWEP Coordinating Center, which is managed by the American Geriatrics Society.

“The Coordinating Council offers us resources, an online portal, a forum to share information, webinars and other educational resources,” said Schicker.  “When the GWEPs join forces between regions, we learn from one another to become stronger advocates for the health of older adults.”


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