Training for psychologists in aging would get boost if Senate bill passes.
National Psychologist, Sept-Oct., 1999..   Vol 8,  No. 5, pg. 8.

By Paula E. Hartman-Stein, Ph.D.

The allocation of federal dollars for training psychologists and other mental health providers in behavioral healthcare for older adults recently moved a step closer to reality.

Senator Michael DeWine (R-OH), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Subcommittee on Aging, introduced language in a bill reauthorizing the Older Americans Act (OAA) to support graduate training for mental health professionals who wish to specialize in the area of aging.

According to Nina Levitt, APA Director for Education Policy, lawmakers are recognizing that there is a serious shortage of mental health professionals in this field, and DeWine's proposal will ensure that there is an adequate mental health workforce to provide services to the growing populations of older Americans. The intent is to focus funds on both graduate as well as post-doctoral training for current practitioners.

Levitt and her staff lobbied diligently for this addition to the provisions for amendments to the Older Americans Act of 1965. "This is a big boost for the recognition of psychologists," she said. "These changes to the bill would grant authority that never existed previously." The bill's new language recognizes not only the role of psychologists and other mental health providers to treat and prevent mental health problems such as depression but also to help older adults manage chronic health conditions such as coronary disease and urinary incontinence.

Physicians and other health care providers such as nurses and dentists already have access to significant amounts of federal funds for training. Levitt said if the bill is accepted into law with current proposed language, it will be psychologists’ only source of access to federal funds for training in aging.

Sheila Forsythe, Education Advocacy Consultant for APA, cautioned that the new provisions are "extremely vulnerable and can easily be kicked out" as the bill winds its way through Congress. Even if the revised version of the Older Americans Act is enacted into law, funds would have to be allocated for this provision through Congressional Appropriations' Committees. So there will be plenty of additional work for the APA advocates. Dr. Levitt remains cautiously optimistic by noting, "This is a first but most important step."

The Older Americans Act was created in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" program. Combining a mix of federal seed money with local funding, services such as Meals on Wheels, in-home care services, transportation, elder abuse protection, senior centers, and legal assistance all became available for older adults. The bill has been a very popular one with older adults and lawmakers, but Congress has been unable to agree on how to update and reauthorize the law since 1995. In addition to updating the services that the law authorized over 30 years ago, new provisions debated by Congress included the protection of senior citizen programs from abuse, fraud and waste as well as improving employment opportunities for low-income seniors.

Spokespersons for DeWine said he hopes the bill will be reauthorized this year or no later than by the end of the Congressional year 2000.

For updates on OAA Reauthorization see the internet website at www.aoa.gov.

 

Paula Hartman-Stein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and consultant at the Center for Healthy Aging in Akron, Ohio. She edited Innovative Behavioral Healthcare for Older Adults: A Guidebook for Changing Times (1998). She can be reached through the internet at cha@en.com.

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