(WASHINGTON, D.C.) (December 16, 2005)  Christopher C. Colenda, M.D., M.P.H., dean of the College of Medicine at The Texas A&M Health Science Center, attended the White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) in Washington, D.C. December 11-14. Dr. Colenda was one of many delegates from around the United States that gathered to discuss issues facing the rapidly growing population of older adults in this country. At the conclusion of the conference, delegates voted on 50 recommendations to present to the President and Congress for consideration in making health care policy decisions regarding aging citizens.
A hot topic at the event was mental health, an issue of high importance to Dr. Colenda, who is a geriatric psychiatrist by specialty. In their top 10 recommendations, delegates placed high priority on mental health care and training for geriatric health professionals. The top 10 recommendations from the WCHoA are as follows:
1. Reauthorize the Older Americans Act within the first six months following the 2005 White House Conference on Aging;
2. Develop a coordinated, comprehensive long-term care strategy by supporting public and private sector initiatives that address financing, choice, quality, service delivery and the paid and unpaid workforce;
3. Ensure that older Americans have transportation options to retain their mobility and independence;
4. Strengthen and improve the Medicaid program for seniors;
5. Strengthen and improve the Medicare program;
6. Support geriatric education and training for all healthcare professionals, paraprofessionals, health profession students and direct care workers
7. Promote innovative models of non-institutional long-term care;
8. Improve recognition, assessment and treatment of mental illness and depression among older Americans;
9. Attain adequate numbers of healthcare personnel in all professions who are skilled, culturally competent and specialized in geriatrics; and
10. Improve state and local based integrated delivery systems to meet 21st century needs of seniors.
Dr. Colenda was pleased to see his peers focus on mental health issues and hopes to see improved support at the national level for geriatrics patients and their health care providers.
“After many years of trying to raise the importance of mental health and treatment for late life mental disorders onto the national agenda for aging, the 2005 WHCoA made a bold leap forward by endorsing the mental health resolution,” Dr. Colenda said. “This is one additional step in eliminating the stigma of mental illness, a stigma that simply can no longer be justified. The WHCoA also strongly endorsed training in geriatrics for health professionals. The funding for these training programs is in jeopardy of being eliminated as part of the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill for 2006, which funds Title VII of the Public Health Service Act. The irony and disappointment was not lost upon the delegates.”

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