An advocate for better geriatric care

By Jan Jarvis


Janice Knebl, DO, recently focused attention on the shortage of health care professionals trained to meet the growing elderly population when she testified at the U.S. Capitol before the Congressional Sub-Committee on Health.

But Dr. Knebl’s presentation did more than show a need to fund federal programs to train a health care workforce to meet the unique needs of the elderly. It put UNT Health Science Center in the limelight by illustrating how its Workforce Enhancement in Healthy Aging and Independent Living program, known as WE HAIL, has been making a difference to older adults in North Texas.Her testimony came in response to $403 million in proposed budget cuts that have threatened geriatric programs nationwide.

WE HAIL, one of 44 geriatric health professions programs nationwide, is preparing health care professionals to not just provide services but to understand the complex conditions facing older adults, said Dr. Knebl, the Dallas Southwest Osteopathic Physicians Endowed Chair in Geriatrics.

“We’ve trained some 1,968 students who will be our future doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, dieticians and physician assistants,” said Dr. Knebl, Director of the Center for Geriatrics at UNTHSC. “We are also working with primary care practices and have trained six interprofessional teams with the goal of expanding person-centered primary care for older adults in emerging integrated delivery systems.”

Since 2015, when UNTHSC became the only awardee in Texas to receive funding through the Health Resources and Services Administration, WE HAIL has been transforming geriatric care in North Texas.

The program focuses on the needs of older adults and their caregivers as identified by the United Way’s Area Agency on Aging community needs assessment. Training has focused on the management of chronic conditions, fall prevention, safe medicine use and health literacy. It also trains in caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.

Through the WE HAIL program, the UNTHSC Center for Geriatric has partnered with the TCU Neeley School of Executive Management on the Geriatric Practice Leadership Institute, which in its first year brought together teams representing six diverse organizations and healthcare disciplines across North Texas.

This year the efforts of WE HAIL were recognized when it received innovation awards from the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and the American Public Health Association.

There is a growing need for a trained workforce specializing in geriatrics. By 2030, one-fifth of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65, totaling more than 70 million people.

Since Dr. Knebl testified, new legislation has been proposed to address the shortage of training programs to care for the elderly. But the bill must pass the House and Senate and be signed by the President before it becomes law.

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