by Terry Henner
Head of Outreach Services
Savitt Medical Library
University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine
With funding from the NNLM Pacific Southwest Region’s Express Award program, the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), School of Medicine Savitt Medical Library initiated a community outreach program to improve access to information for the lay public and professional heath care and social services workers that care for seniors. A central aim of the project was to create a comprehensive, web-enabled clearinghouse that aggregated community and regional health and social services available to seniors, as well as external resources such as NIHSeniorHealth and similar sites. The project also developed webinars to address educational needs of health care professionals to raise awareness of resources useful in improving the clinical care of seniors. Our efforts represented a collaboration with two other organizations, the UNR Sanford Center for Aging and the Community Foundation of Western Nevada, both of which have a direct interest in serving the needs of Nevada caregivers.
The work began with a series of convening sessions that brought together a diverse group of people involved in the care of seniors: social workers, nurses, financial planners, attorneys, family members, legislators, and others. People told their stories. A woman described her struggle caring for her sister; a former triathlete and mountain climber, rendered helpless by dental-related infective endocarditis and stroke. Then, more personal accounts, all equally wrenching. Caring for seniors, we learned, can be emotionally stressful, physically exhausting, isolating, and financially draining. We also learned that incomplete access to the range of community and regional resources supporting senior caregiving is problematic and a significant challenge. Discussion gave strong evidence supporting the need for an online resource that could help identify, validate, and direct caregivers to resources for senior care and well-being. Subsequent needs assessment and input from key stakeholders was obtained through a series of structured interviews, focus groups, and questionnaires. Feedback helped define important areas for resource development and naming conventions for website navigational categories.
Construction of the web clearinghouse began with identification, annotation, and organization of resources. Ultimately, we identified roughly 400 sources for senior care. Some representative categories included: transportation services, low-income housing, Medicare and health insurance information, financial planning, elder abuse, mobility resources, and chronic disease management. After consultation and review of mockups with stakeholders, we contracted with a commercial web service to design and host the database online. During the beta stage of development, we held forums to allow community stakeholders to review the design process and offer suggestions for improvement. Although final adjustment of the website is still underway at the time of this writing, as we near completion the feedback is highly favorable. We intend to continue the work of clearinghouse enhancement, marketing of the project, and additional training on accessing resources through recruitment of service-learning students, volunteers from the community, and ongoing participation of staff from the collaborating project groups. Because Nevada has one of the fastest growing aging populations in the nation, we see expansion of efforts to improve access to senior health information resources as an ongoing priority!