May 2013 Features

GSSWSR: Focus on Aging

A gift in honor of Lucille Rosengarten ’57 supports the field of geriatric social work.

By Priya Ratneshwar

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Lucille Rosengarten ’57

In 2011, the first of the “Baby Boomers” (those born between 1946 and 1964) began turning 65. The milestone heralded a demographic shift that will change the face of the United States during the next 20 years. The number of senior citizens will increase dramatically to a projected 72 million and represent nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. population—nearly twice what it was in 2000. As a result, demand is quickly outpacing supply for the care and support of a population that is aging and living longer.

“Across the spectrum of mental health and health providers, there is a real lack of professionals going into geriatrics,” says Sara Bressi Nath, associate professor at the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research (GSSWSR). To help meet this need, GSSWSR has been making targeted efforts to increase research and teaching in the area of geriatric social work. “Funding from organizations like the John A. Hartford Foundation have helped foster faculty work in the area of geriatric social work,” GSSWSR Dean Darlyne Bailey says. A recent gift (which will be renewed for the next four years) from Professor Frank Rosengarten and Dr. Arthur Lindner—the husband and brother, respectively, of Lucille Rosengarten ’57—will help support this goal.

During her 10 years as a social worker at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, Lucille Rosengarten endured long subway rides across the city’s boroughs to make thousands of home visits to the frail and sick elderly. These visits were key in helping her formulate her pioneering ideas on home healthcare. As the first social worker in Mount Sinai’s home healthcare department, Rosengarten worked collaboratively with a wide range of departments in the hospital as well as with the outside community to return elderly patients safely to their homes rather than send them to nursing homes. In 1984 she went on to found Concerned Home Managers for the Elderly (COHME), a nonprofit home healthcare agency. Still thriving (although under different management) COHME employs a non-traditional cooperative team approach in which the professional staff works in partnership with home health aides to best meet the client’s needs.

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Rosengarten published Social Work in Geratric Home Health Care in 2000.

Rosengarten received her master’s degree in social work from Hunter College, but some of her most formative experiences occurred at Bryn Mawr, where she lived in Pem West, majored in biology, and made lifelong friends. “From the time I met her to the time I lost her, I was always amazed by her ability to size up a situation and come to a realistic and workable solution,” Frank says. “I think that extraordinary ability for problem solving was really honed at Bryn Mawr.” The gift will honor her life’s work through fellowships for GSSWSR students who want to concentrate in geriatric social work and support for programming in this area.

Content on aging has been embedded throughout the GSSWSR’s curriculum, and several faculty are clinicians and researchers in this area. Bressi Nath studies health service utilization patterns in adults 55 or older who also have severe and persistent mental illness. She also teaches an elective on adult development and aging. Field liaison and adjunct faculty member Jacqueline Salmon is a clinician, and one of her current projects involves teaching mindfulness-based stress reduction to elders and caregivers in eldercare facilities. She teaches a gerontology seminar and also works with students interested in gerontology field placements such as working in senior centers or providing community legal aid to the elderly. Many students initially are reluctant to work in the field of gerontology; they prefer to work with children and adolescents, Salmon acknowledges.

“We try to teach them how rich and rewarding work with older adults can be,” she says. “Older adults have a lifetime of experience coping with difficult situations, so they bring tremendous resources to bear on any current life stressors.”

Jennifer Campbell, Ph.D. ’05, adjunct faculty member and consultant, can testify to how diverse a career in social work and gerontology can be.  Her GSSWSR doctoral research drew on her evaluation work for a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded demonstration project to help older adults remain in the community as their care needs increased. Recently, she contributed to a policy paper on guardianship that was commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging through CARIE.  After Hurricane Katrina, she served as the director of a fund to raise money from philanthropy to rebuild senior services in the Gulf States. Currently she is working with the nonprofit Grantmakers in Aging to stimulate funding in aging and to create age-friendly cities.

The hope, says Bailey, is that gifts such as Rosengarten’s and Lindner’s will help more students follow paths like Campbell’s: “This gift in memory of Lucille Rosengarten will help us meet the challenge of motivating and supporting students as they develop the unique clinical skills needed to help our elders.”

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