GWEP: A grant delivering an ‘invaluable’ service for families in Micronesia
By Akina Chargualaf
After their elderly mother had an unexpected fall, long-time public school educators Doreen and George Pereda found themselves providing around-the-clock care for her without any preparation or training.
Their story is representative of many similar situations for families around the region — families unprepared to care for not just aging parents and grandparents, but those with Alzheimer’s and related dementias — that inspired the University of Guam School of Health to launch a pilot program in 2018 in collaboration with Catholic Social Service to provide education and training.
During one session, School of Health Dean Margaret Hattori-Uchima and her colleagues were deeply moved by the responses from the families and caregivers who attended, including one individual who was personally coping with the early signs and stages of dementia.
"One thing that struck us was that the services for anyone with dementia are so limited on Guam,” Hattori-Uchima said.
Guam’s nursing assistant vacancy rate was at a staggering 45%, and there were no consistent trainings related to dementia.
“To hear families thank us for the information that we were sharing — and then to hear them say, ‘We need more’ made us look for more opportunities,” Hattori-Uchima said.
The School of Health applied for and was awarded a five-year $3.75 million grant from the Health Resources & Services Administration in 2019. The grant created the Guam/Micronesia Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program with the purpose of transforming the health systems serving the elderly through workforce development and trainings for family caregivers in recreational therapy, fall prevention, and safety measures.
Shortly after GWEP was formed, the program launched a nursing assistant training program that has since contributed 86 certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, to the workforce. These individuals are helping to close the 45% job vacancy rate on island by filling CNA positions at Guam Memorial Hospital, Guam Regional Medical City, Health Services of the Pacific, and Catholic Social Service.
Many of the trainees were prior caregivers in Guam’s health care sector. They undergo 160 hours of hands-on and classroom training, which prepares them to pass the national certification exam and return to their employers with enhanced skills for patient care.
The program is ongoing, having graduated its sixth cohort on April 1, 2022.
Another aspect of GWEP has been to build upon its initial pilot program of delivering education and training in elderly care to the general population. Since 2019, the program has offered 257 courses and trained 4,938 students, family members, older adults, persons with ADRD, as well as health professionals from all over Micronesia and Hawaii.
The grant has also funded more than 247 online support group sessions and presentations through its Telehealth Geriatric Support Services bringing dementia and geriatric-related training and resources to 91 staff caregivers and more than 1,164 families.
The Peredas have been active participants in GWEP’s trainings, attending more than 15 presentations and webinars.
“The need to take care of our seniors, especially those with dementia, takes much sacrifice, time, resources, and love for any one individual,” Doreen Pereda said, adding, “[The trainings] are invaluable for our communities, most especially since our large Baby Boomer generation is coming of age with their unique challenges. We truly feel that these programs are vital.”
The grant will carry the program through June 2024. And fueling the team at the School of Health every step of the way will be the genuine gratitude of those first families and clients in the pilot program.
“We’re touching lives,” Hattori-Uchima said, “not only through our degree programs, but by being a part of the community.”