November 12, 1999

New geriatrics center to bolster care options

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Walter Chazin, Ph.D., directs the new Vanderbilt Structural Biology Program. (photo by Dana Johnson)

New geriatrics center to bolster care options

Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Meharry Medical College and the Veterans Affairs medical centers in Nashville and Murfreesboro are teaming to improve the health of the region's elderly.

The four institutions have received a five-year, $8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a new Geriatric, Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC).

The new center, which will be directed by Dr. Robert S. Dittus, Joe and Morris Werthan Professor of Investigative Medicine, is part of a larger VA initiative to expand its network of geriatric centers of excellence to better serve the nation's growing ranks of elderly veterans.

Securing the grant for the center's formation would not have been possible without the assistance of every member of Tennessee's congressional delegation.

"Our four institutions are ideally suited to deliver the multi-disciplinary care that our veterans will need in years to come," said Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs.

"This GRECC grant is the recognition of the top quality physicians and programs we have that are dedicated to improving the health of the senior population.

"However, we know that our grant approval could not have been achieved without the tremendous work of Rep. Bob Clement, Sens. Bill Frist and Fred Thompson, and the entire Tennessee delegation."

The Nashville/Alvin C. York GRECC will focus on preventive health care and use of medications by the elderly. Another newly designated center, the Bronx/New York Harbor VA GRECC, will focus on end-of-life care for the elderly, the VA announced earlier this week.

In addition to Dittus, the leadership team for the new center includes Dr. Veronica Scott, associate professor of Medicine at Meharry and director of Meharry's program on aging, who will be associate director for education and program evaluation; Dr. Alastair J.J. Wood, professor of Medicine at VUMC, who will serve as associate director of research; and Dr. James S. Powers, director of geriatrics at the Nashville VA and associate professor of Medicine at VUMC, who will be the associate clinical director.

The need for centers such as the newly formed Nashville/Alvin C. York GRECC is growing, responding to a demand for geriatric care that the rest of American society will confront within the next 20 years. By next year, 38 percent of all U.S. veterans, or an estimated 9.3 million people, will be age 65 or older. In comparison, people 65 years or older account for 13 percent of the total U.S. population.

The VA's program in geriatrics was formed nearly 25 years ago to increase basic knowledge about the aging process and to improve overall quality of care. The program — which has grown to include 18 VA geriatric centers across the country — doesn't just benefit elderly veterans of America's armed forces.

According to Dittus, the VA program has trained a large number of the nation's physicians who specialize in the care of the elderly.

"It is one of the important contributions the VA has made toward the care of people throughout the country," Dittus said.