In May, the private foundation Deerbrook Charitable Trust donated $4.7 million to UTA’s gerontology program under the College of Nursing and Health Innovation.
The Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program is a graduate program housed in the college. The program trains students to manage the health of patients, whose age can range from adolescence to the end of life, according to the program’s website.
Program director Kathryn Daniel said most of the money will be used to fund student scholarships, endow a gerontology chair and fund creation of a certification. Another portion of money will fund development of web-based continuing education modules for practicing nurses.
The gerontology program will focus on the best evidence for health promotion and maintenance of strong health in older adults, Daniel said. After completing the program curriculum, students who are already licensed as advanced practice registered nurses may take a national certification exam to become recognized as specialists in gerontology.
“That’s what we’re trying to do is create nurses with the skills to help develop that body of knowledge and disseminate it to others so that the best knowledge can be applied,” she said.
Daniel said the population of older adults is rapidly increasing, and there was little research focused exclusively on older adults. Historically, health studies often excluded adults because they had more than one disorder or condition.
“They have unique health and concerns,” she said. “And a broad preparation at the undergraduate level does not prepare people to care for the specific problems that older adults face.”
Daniel said the program was invited to apply for a Deerbrook grant. The college and Institutional Development applied for the grant in the spring and were notified that their request was accepted in May.
Arthur Sundstrom, Deerbrook Charitable Trust executive director, said UTA’s mission to better equip nursing students with knowledge in elderly care was important to the board. The grant will help provide more professional leadership so that men and women are prepared in the gerontology field.
Sundstrom said the trust is run by a board, mostly made up of family members. The board invites organizations to apply for grants before voting on how the trust’s money is spent.
According to the trust’s website, it was founded in 2006 and supports local, regional and national organizations that serve children and families. Its mission includes providing individuals of all ages with opportunities for a better education, a healthier life and a stronger family.
“This grant helps provide higher level education in the nursing field so that there can be more teachers,” Sundstrom said.
Clinical assistant professor Elisa Stehling is taking courses to achieve her doctorate in nursing. She said much of her doctorate work was focused on frailty in heart failure patients, the majority of whom were older.
About two years ago, Stehling participated in heart failure research with professor Mark Haykowsky, who has been studying heart failure for about 20 years, she said. During research, they exercise-trained heart failure patients so they would have better physical function.
Stehling worked with her patients three days a week for four months, and she said they felt like her family. She said she believed that developing a good relationship with them helped with healing, but she was sad to leave them.
“I felt that way when I worked in a hospital, but I didn’t see people for four months,” she said. “So the bond is different.”
Stehling said it was exciting that the board wanted to donate money to the gerontology field. People live longer now and develop more problems as they get older, Stehling said.
“We need to give what we can to make quality of life better for people who are living longer,” she said.