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Updated 10:00 AM October 25, 2004




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New gift boosts geriatric social work program

The number of elderly people in the country is increasing, and many of them have growing needs for services such as health care, home repairs and food.

Students in a program at the School of Social Work (SSW) are doing their part to help. The Geriatric Social Work Fellowship Program aims to increase the number and quality of social workers who are trained to assist elderly people.

The program recently received a $486,000 gift from the McGregor Foundation as part of The Michigan Difference, the $2.5 billion University-wide fund-raising campaign. The funding will go toward master of social work students' efforts to help elderly people in Detroit.

Students apply to be a part of the competitive program, and about 20 students are involved in each 16-month cycle, says Ruth Dunkle, the Wilbur J. Cohen Collegiate Professor of Social Work. With the help of the McGregor Foundation funding, more students will be able to participate in the program with expansion anticipated in Detroit, she says.

A seminar introduces the students to the "spiral" concept of care—that is, elderly people find themselves dealing with several different professionals in multiple settings, so the social work students learn the language of these professions, how to interact with people in fields such as nursing and mental health care and how services are delivered in various settings.

"They're going to have a much more comprehensive view of services to old people," says Dunkle, who developed the program with Lily Jarman-Reisch, former director of field education for SSW, and Ruth Campbell, director of social services for the Turner Geriatric Clinic. The program runs with the support of Letha Chadiha, associate professor of social work, and Lydia Li, assistant professor of social work.

The students are placed in at least two fieldwork sites during the fellowship, including hospitals, health clinics, social service providers and senior care agencies in Detroit and Washtenaw County.

The program began in 1999 through a grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation. It came about, Dunkle says, because "people could see that with the increasing numbers of old people in this country, we'd need more social workers who were specifically trained to deal with them."

Students receive stipends during the course of the fellowship and help finding employment after graduation. More information is available at

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