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UW-Eau Claire Partners with CVTC to Provide Dental Care to Senior Citizens

RELEASED: June 30, 2005

EAU CLAIRE — More than 500 senior citizens who live in Eau Claire area long-term care facilities will have easier access to dental care thanks to a new partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley Technical College.

UW-Eau Claire's Center for Health and Aging Services Excellence is funding a program to provide dental care to residents in five area long-term care facilities. University students majoring in health care administration and who are completing practicums in the long-term care facilities are coordinating the program. If grant monies are realized, CVTC's dental hygiene program will provide preventative services and staff training.

"It's a win, win, win situation," said Dr. Doug Olson, a UW-Eau Claire professor of health care administration. "This program provides university and CVTC students with great real-world experience and it'll benefit hundreds of senior citizens. Older, frail people often have very poor dental care so it's an important benefit for them. It's a good fit for a lot of reasons."

Chippewa Valley facilities that are now or soon will be served by the dental program include Dove Health Care, Grace Foundation-Syverson Home, The Clairemont, Oakwood Villa and Chippewa Manor. Additional sites will be added as the program moves forward, Meredith Wolf, communications specialist for CHASE, said, adding that the program is now bringing dental services to facilities that house more than 500 senior citizens.

"It's very exciting," Wolf said. "We started doing the initial screenings recently and the reaction from the people at the facilities was very positive. We're clearly helping fill a big, big need in our community."

And the program is giving the UW-Eau Claire students who are coordinating it some exceptional opportunities, said Bonnie Jo Roth, a senior health care administration major who helped move the project forward. Roth and UW-Eau Claire student Nora Kelly contacted CVTC instructors to discuss the proposed program, helped identify potential funding sources and worked with the various facilities to identify needs. They also created letters for families and residents, as well as a consent form.

"I grew up with a father in dentistry so I know how important it is to have good dental hygiene and I understand the health risks the elderly face when they don't have proper care," Kelly said.

More and more the medical community is recognizing links between oral health and overall health, said Linda Bohacek, one of the CVTC instructors working with the program.

"New studies show that keeping the mouth healthy is good for the health of the whole body," Bohacek said. "This is a great opportunity for CVTC and UW-Eau Claire to work jointly because our dental hygienist program and their health care programs are really interrelated."

The program also exposes CVTC students to a setting outside the traditional dental clinic and will make them more comfortable working with the elderly population, Bohacek said.

Funding for the program is funneled through CHASE, which brings health care professionals together with health care administration faculty and students in various ways. With private dollars and grant funds gained through CHASE, the health care administration program has been able to fund more student scholarships, student research, practicum stipends, leadership training and various initiatives, such as the dental care program for the older population.

"CHASE is going unbelievably well," Olson said. "It's continued to be a wonderful model of how to create partnerships with professionals in the industry to strengthen a program."

In the last year, the program expanded its partnerships with long-term care facilities beyond Wisconsin and Minnesota, Olson said. Students now complete their required yearlong practicum at sites in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Illinois and Iowa.

The CHASE model has re-energized UW-Eau Claire's health care administration program, making it the only program of its kind in the country that is growing, Olson said.

"We have about 140 majors and two faculty members," Olson said. "We make it work because we use the expertise and support of industry leaders. But even with their support, we need to be considering options to handle the increase in enrollment. Programs every where else are struggling to attract quality students and we're getting to a point where we might have to start turning students away."

As a result, UW-Eau Claire is gaining national attention from the industry because there is a shortage of people going into the health care administration field, Olson said. And as the baby boomer generation ages, attracting bright people to help care for them is more important than ever, he said.

"We need our best and brightest students to recognize that taking care of our parents and grandparents is a noble profession," Olson said. "We need people in the field who are prepared to make the dramatic changes that are going to be necessary in the next few years to provide the care that's going to be demanded by the aging baby boomers. A lot has to happen in a short amount of time and we need bright young people to help make it happen."

Roth said she was drawn to the health care administration field because it allows her to use both her business and interpersonal skills in way that will benefit the life of someone else.

"There is a true gratitude in this field, which is why I love it," Roth said. "Upon graduating, I can see myself going just about anywhere in the health care field."

Olson said Roth and other graduates of the health care administration program are in demand because of increases in the nation's aging population, more senior alternative living options, the influence of chronic care conditions on the health care system and the health care industry's tendency to quickly move patients from hospitals to rehabilitation-type facilities.

"There simply aren't enough appropriately educated graduates to meet the leadership needs in this industry," Olson said, noting that few colleges and universities in the country even offer undergraduate programs with an emphasis on health and aging services administration.

Given its success, CHASE is serving as a model for other health care administration programs across the country, Olson said, adding that he and his students have been invited to make presentations at regional and national conferences and other events.

"People in the field know what we're doing and they like it," Olson said. "We're a small program with limited resources so we had to be creative in order to grow. The results have been phenomenal. And we still have a lot of ideas and plans that we've not yet even put into place."

For more information, contact Doug Olson at (715) 836-5067 or olsondou@uwec.edu.

-30-

JB

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