Students Partner with AARP to Explore Health Care Needs of Older Adults

Posted: June 1, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: June 1, 2010 at 8:00 am

By Dave Andrews

Some of the social work students posed with Rep. Gerry Connolly after presenting their research on older adults. At far right is Cathy Tompkins, BSW program director, and behind her, Tom Hennessey, Mason chief of staff. Photo by Ginger McDaniel, AARP

With the national health care debate as a backdrop, Mason’s Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Program recently partnered with AARP – a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people age 50 and over improve the quality of their lives – to discover the health care needs of older adults and bring to light the challenges they face.

During the spring 2010 semester, each of the 35 senior social work majors interviewed two older adults facing challenges with care giving, insurance or pre-existing health conditions.

With their project, “Voices for Change: Project Health Care,” the students aimed to take those stories to a bigger stage.

“We are very proud of these students for identifying an important and timely issue impacting older adults with health care challenges and for giving a voice to those who otherwise may not be heard,” says Shirley Travis, dean of the College of Health and Human Services.

“These emerging social workers learned firsthand about the value and process of advocacy and engagement in health and social policy debate.”

AARP representatives frequently came to the classroom throughout the semester to familiarize the students with the organization and its goals of advocating for older adults.

“A project of this caliber that incorporated an important partnership with AARP was a great opportunity for the students as well as the university,” says Cathy Tompkins, Mason’s BSW program director.

“I was very impressed with how the students took the initiative and with how well they worked with AARP.”

The class decided to hold a press conference at the end of the semester to showcase their findings. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) and representatives from AARP were among those who attended.

“This was a great opportunity we had to learn how to make a positive change within the community,” says Rachel Valentine, a recent BSW graduate and project participant.

“Most of those whom we interviewed had experienced significant challenges with their health. We hope that our findings will have a lasting impact within the health care debate.”

Though the project is over, the personal stories live on. Thanks to the students’ work, AARP has increased its database of narratives that can be used in future AARP publications, in debate on Capitol Hill or in the media to inform the public of health care issues facing older Americans.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu