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Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Workforce
Internet-based education is also a useful tool for dealing with the lack of available leaders to teach the various courses.
Educators recognize that distance education has a number of valuable attributes, such as improved access to geriatric materials for non-traditional students, increased access to experts, and an increased ability to share information among disciplines. A survey of members of the Association for Gerontology in Higher Education found that 35 percent of the member institutions used distance education, with most of them (79 percent) having been using the modality for less than 5 years (Johnson, 2004). A survey of various medical education programs found that 79 percent used the Internet for geriatric education, and 56 percent reported that they were currently developing Internet-based products (Hajjar et al., 2007). There is also evidence, however, that some Internet-based geriatric information is of poor or inadequate quality (Hajjar et al., 2005).
Innovative community college programs have great potential for playing a role in both the initial and the continuing geriatric education of certain professionals. Indeed, community colleges have already been instrumental in the education and training of large parts of the health care workforce for older patients. For example, community colleges educate a large number of the nurses who receive associate degrees (Mahaffey, 2002), and they provide refresher courses to those nurses already in the workforce (Sussman, 2006). Community colleges may provide career ladder programs for entry-level workers and partner with nursing homes and home health agencies to develop programs for continuing education.
Community colleges have also been essential in the development of many new certificate programs and education courses. Community colleges have the advantage of being able to tailor programs to local needs and state-based requirements and to use approaches that will be most acceptable to workers in that community. Recognizing this, the Allied and Auxiliary Health Care Workforce Project, sponsored by the California HealthCare Foundation and the California Endowment, funded seven model programs at community colleges to create new courses and credentialing processes for health care workers (Chapman et al., 2004). Mt. San Antonio College, one recipient of the funding created a new certificate program for entry-level mental health workers. City College of San Francisco and Jewish Vocational Services created a “Gateway to Health Careers Program” to introduce local residents to health care careers and to provide basic skills training for college readiness. Community college programs offer one approach to standardizing curricula for new types of workers who care for older patients and to ensuring the competency of those workers.