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2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist Kathryn Skira

Caitlin Burm
By Caitlin BurmMay 3, 2014

A Place for Mom is proud to announce the finalists of our annual $1,000 scholarship for advancement in the field of gerontology. The finalists will be narrowed down to five winners to be awarded with a financial donation. Applicants were required to write a compelling essay about senior care innovation in preparing for America’s “Silver Tsunami” of aging Baby Boomers.

2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist Kathryn Skira

Congratulations to Kathryn Skira, 2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship Finalist! Read Kathryn’s essay below and comment with why you feel she deserves to be one of the five scholarship award recipients.

Kathryn’s Essay

The demands on the senior care industry are becoming greater and more complicated as men and women are living longer, adult children are moving farther away, and care is more likely to come from individuals outside the home. Demands for services will continue to increase as the Baby Boomer generation ages and their needs intensify. In order to appropriately address the increasing number of men and women who will require specialized care, social services, and medical and mental health benefits, we must expand the benefits provided through Medicare, particularly in the area of mental health. We must also change the way this country views its senior citizens by building stronger relationships between older adults and their communities. As I enter my second year of a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling program, I look forward to becoming an active part of the field by specializing in geriatric mental health and advocating for greater benefits under Medicare for our aging population.

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Currently, licensed professional counselors (LPCs) and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) are not covered under Medicare. In 2012, less than 550 community mental health centers were staffed by social workers and psychologists, making them eligible for Medicare reimbursement. This is a paltry number when you consider that Medicare serves approximately 20% of Americans (Association for Adult Development and Aging, 2013). This number will rise dramatically over the next 35 years, meaning a dearth of professionals able to provide mental health treatment to older adults. The depression and anxiety that result from the illnesses, cognitive decline, social isolation, and loss that come with aging will go untreated or will not be treated appropriately. As a result, more men and women will go without outpatient treatment, resulting in a greater number of acute inpatient admissions for unaddressed mental health needs. An option that should be considered a last resort is often seen as the only appropriate step because of the limitations of Medicare coverage, despite the high cost of inpatient care.

Medicare expansion means the many licensed professional counselors across the nation will be able to be active members of the older adult care community. Counselors are needed to address the demands that come with aging, such as caring for ill spouses and appropriately adjusting to retirement. They can also help seniors access services to assist with the financial burden of living longer after retirement. Currently, these issues greatly impact the mental health of older adults, because they change their sense of purpose and force them to face mortality head-on, often without support. By expanding Medicare to cover LPCs and LMFTs, this country can more effectively and successfully treat older adults earlier and at a lower cost.

In addition to expanding Medicare, we need to begin looking at seniors as a vital part of society, not as men and women who are a burden to younger generations. Overall, we are a society focused on youth, immediacy, and productivity. Since the stereotype of a retired older adult does not fit in this youthful image, much of the nation sees our senior population as a burden to be cared for, not a resource to be appreciated (Meyers, 2014). Older adults have so much to offer, and there need to be more organizations that provide opportunities for seniors to make an impact on their communities. One example would be building senior day centers that focus on community involvement for active seniors in addition to caring for those with greater physical and cognitive needs. If active seniors are given opportunities to volunteer with community organizations and take part in activities like pet adoption fairs, fundraising events, and community outreach, we can begin to erase the stigma that life after retirement is unproductive. Many men and women express a desire to continue living productive lives after retirement, and without opportunities to do so, social isolation and depression can quickly set in. By connecting organizations with seniors in need of a purpose, we can begin sending the message that seniors are not a burden, but an asset, while also helping them to stay active.

As I move towards my counseling degree and subsequent licensure, there are numerous contributions I plan to make to the senior care industry. As a member of the American Counseling Association, I am actively lobbying for the expansion of Medicare and will continue to make this issue a priority as a mental health advocate. Medicare expansion is essential to addressing the rising number of men and women who will be facing mental health issues and cognitive decline due to dementia. It is my hope that by 2050 we will not only see social workers and psychiatrists in older adult communities, but counselors and therapists who will be able to care for their mental health needs. In addition, with the expansion of Medicare, I will be able to devote myself fully to building early intervention programs in community mental health centers for seniors showing signs of depression, anxiety, isolation, and cognitive decline.

I am passionate about community involvement for older adults, and I believe there are many ways men and women can contribute to community organizations after retirement. One of my long-term goals is to build a comprehensive senior center for active adults seeking purposeful volunteer opportunities, as well as seniors who might be physically or cognitively limited, but still thrive on socialization. This senior center will provide older adults with opportunities to spend time working with local pet adoption agencies, mentoring programs, fundraising organizations, and other community-based agencies. Not only will the volunteers gain a sense of purpose, but the organizations involved will have more resources to help the community. A center such as this provides purpose and socialization for older adults while also being equipped to monitor for signs of possible mental, cognitive, or physical health problems, and giving those in need of more assistance the respectful care they deserve.

The senior care industry will soon need to accommodate a drastically larger number of men and women who are living longer lives, and the task is daunting. I strongly believe, though, that with changes at both the national and community level, we can make positive change and better care for the older adults in this country a reality.

View and read all of the 2014 Senior Care Innovation Scholarship finalists and congratulate them on making it closer to the scholarship prize.

Did Kathryn’s essay inspire you? Don’t forget to share your thoughts below.

Caitlin Burm
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