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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Geriatric studies lead to $2 million UH grant

By Beverly Creamer and Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writers

Hawai'i's large aging population, unique cultural mix and a strong existing program in geriatric medicine at the University of Hawai'i have helped lure a $2 million grant to the university for continued expansion of geriatric medicine in the state.

The University of Hawai'i joins Yale, Cornell and seven other top institutions in sharing $19.8 million in grant money from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. The grants are intended to strengthen geriatrics training across the country.

The grant will help improve health care for the growing elderly population in Hawai'i now and for years to come.

"This puts us several steps ahead of many states for this kind of health care," said Jim O'Brien, director of UH Foundation Relations.

The money will go toward instituting geriatrics training in all three years of the medicine and family practice residency programs at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, and developing a curriculum in geriatrics in all four years of medical school.

Additionally, it will help pay for new geriatrics education for residents in obstetrics/gynecology, psychiatry, and general and orthopedic surgery. It also will help provide continuing medical education for practicing physicians and faculty members.

Geriatric medicine in Hawai'i is especially important given the health problems arising because of the aging of the Baby Boomers and the speed in which the state's elderly population is growing in comparison with other states.

The proportion of Hawai'i's elderly is growing at 2 1/2 times the national average. The numbers are affected by Hawai'i's average life span, one of the longest in the country.

Data provided by the state's Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism indicate that about 13 percent of Hawai'i's population was older than 65 last year. The figures project that 15 percent will be seniors in 2010.

That means the problems faced in caring for, housing, and providing medical services for elders are expected to be more intense than in most states. O'Brien pointed out that large numbers of people in Hawai'i have parents and grandparents in their extended-family households.

"The point is to train students who will be dealing with more and more older patients," said O'Brien. "The end result is good health care for older adults."

The grant is also an acknowledgement of the high quality of the geriatrics program in place at the university now. The other prestigious schools to receive grants "really validates that we have an outstanding geriatrics program," said O'Brien.

UH president Kenneth Mortimer has said the university is committed to building "one of the nation's premier" training programs in geriatric medicine. Long range, it's likely the nation's fourth department of geriatrics will be established at the university's medical school.

The new $2 million award joins another $400,000 grant that the university is scheduled to receive from the John Hartford Foundation, which is also dedicated to geriatric education.

O'Brien notes that the issues faced by the elderly are often complex and may include a multitude of medical conditions along with physical limitations and psychosocial issues such as poverty. All need to be put into a cultural context, he said.

"What a physician might recommend to me might be very different than someone from a Japanese cultural perspective, with three generations in a household," he said.

Furthermore, specific cultural groups develop certain conditions more commonly than others.

"Understanding why that is is a big question in medicine nowadays," O'Brien said.

The Las Vegas-based Donald W. Reynolds Foundation was created by media entrepreneur Donald W. Reynolds, founder and principal owner of the Donrey Media Group. At Reynolds' death in 1993, the company owned 52 daily newspapers, including the Hawai'i Tribune-Herald and West Hawai'i Today.