Abstract: Enhancing Behavioral Health Competencies for Senior Center Staff: Lessons Learned from Workforce Training Efforts (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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126P Enhancing Behavioral Health Competencies for Senior Center Staff: Lessons Learned from Workforce Training Efforts

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Bronwyn Keefe, PhD, MSW, MPH, Research Assistant Professor, Director, Center for Aging and Disability Education & Research, Boston University, MA
Background: Increases in the numbers of older adults with behavioral health concerns compels us to identify best practices in ensuring that there is a workforce trained to care for older adults with mental health and substance use conditions. Senior Centers are an ideal location for behavioral health education programs as they are the go-to place for many older adults, yet there is limited information available on best practices in training. Funded by The Retirement Research Foundation, this collaboration between the Center for Aging and Disability Education and Research (CADER) at Boston University School of Social Work and the National Council on Aging, trained staff at Senior Centers in Florida and Illinois to develop the core skills, knowledge, and values needed to effectively identify and respond to older adults with behavioral health concerns. The goal was to revise and replicate a training program that is skills-based and incorporates the latest in theory and research. This study will provide evidence in best practices in training Senior Center staff in issues related to mental health and substance use.

Methods: We tested a 19-hour online certificate in Behavioral Health and Aging developed by CADER. The goals were: (1) evaluate whether and to what extent the training participants have mastered the competencies needed for effective practice; (2) evaluate the training content and applicability to practice; (3) assess knowledge and skills gained from the training program; (4) evaluate Senior Center capacity to identify and refer older adults to mental health services; and (5) assess organizational changes, in terms of programming and practice, as related to behavioral health issues with older adults. This was achieved through pre-post assessments, course evaluations, and key informant interviews.

Results: We recruited approximately 200 staff in Illinois and Florida. Results show that 100% of respondents felt that the training was useful for their job; 93% felt that they will be a more effective worker as a result of the training; and 97% felt that the information they learned in the training will make a difference with the people they serve. Competencies were statistically significant from pre-post testing. Key informant interviews reported that their knowledge, skills, and behaviors were influenced by the program. At the organizational level, leaders reported new programming related to behavioral health and revised practices and protocols.

Conclusion: Senior Centers can increase protective factors by offering programming to support the development of social connections, which is critical to combating social isolation and improving mental wellness. It can be a challenge for Senior Center staff to implement new programming related to behavioral health because they often have had little training and feel less comfortable in creating and running these types of programs. Through this program, staff had significant increases in competencies and new knowledge, which led to increased behavioral health programming. Currently, there are no state or national standards for training this workforce in the areas of behavioral health. This project aims to lead this effort by offering best practices in statewide training initiatives based on the results from this program.