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Professorship Created to Enhance Mental Health Care of Elderly in Their Homes

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A new professorship within the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center has been created as part of one of the largest private gifts ever given to the Medical Center.

The Snider Professorship is the leadership position of the groundbreaking Geropsychiatry Outreach (GO) Program that was created by Arnold H. Snider and his wife, Katherine, to reach frail elderly at home, improve their mental health, and prevent crisis institutionalization. The Sniders just recently added the professorship to the GO Program endowment, which is now called the Kate Mills Snider Geropsychiatry Outreach Program and Professorship Fund.

The Snider Professor will direct the GO Program and serve as a professor in the Psychiatry Department. Not only does the Snider endowment provide salary support for the professor, the fund also supports the GO Program’s clinical nurse specialist and project manager.

The endowment is named for Snider’s mother, Kate Mills Snider, who died at her home in Salisbury on Nov. 26, 2006, at the age of 89, after several years of declining health. Arnold Snider said that he created the fund “to honor my mother and to show appreciation for the wonderful care given to her by the staff at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.”

The first Snider Professor is Burton V. Reifler, M.D., M.P.H., chairman emeritus of the Department of Psychiatry, who has been the medical director of the program. “The GO Program is an exceptional resource that has the potential to advance knowledge and programming at the national level, consistent with the vision and leadership of the Snider family and Dr. Deirdre Johnston, the GO Program’s founding director,” Reifler said.

“Everybody understands that the population is aging, which is why it is absolutely critical to develop community based programs,” Reifler said. “Problems like dementia and depression can tip the scales for independent older adults. By providing mental health care at home, we can avoid the kind of crisis in which people end up in hospitals and nursing homes prematurely. We also want to be a national resource center for information on geriatric mental health, and do research, testing different models of care.”

About 15 percent of elderly people, faced with health problems, financial struggles and loss of family and friends, suffer from depression. For elderly people in hospitals and nursing homes, the number is much higher – as many as 75 percent have depression or dementia. The population of people 65 and older is expected to double by the year 2030, growing from 969,000 in 2000 to 2.2 million in 2030.

The goal of the GO Program is to identify, diagnose and treat homebound patients’ psychiatric needs in their homes, and to work with primary care physicians, home health agencies, and caretakers in creating a network of support through various community agencies and organizations.

W. Vaughn McCall, M.D., M.S., professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, said, “With the aging of the baby-boomers, we can expect unprecedented demands for geriatric mental health services. While there is a shortage of psychiatrists in general, there is a critical shortage of geriatric psychiatrists.”

To date, the GO team has made 1,429 patient contacts and last year followed 35 patients, McCall said. “The Snider Professor will not only head the GO Program, but will also direct the academic geriatric section of the Psychiatry Department, lead the residents’ geriatric clinic, teach proper models of care, and do research.”

Martha L. Bruce, Ph.D., M.P.H., a professor of sociology in psychiatry at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, has studied the home-oriented GO Program. “Declining health, loss of family and friends, and disabilities can all increase the risk of depression and other mental health problems, as well as cognitive problems like Alzheimer’s disease, in the frail and homebound elderly,” she said.

“The GO Program is unique and special. It provides good services to help older people live independently and is also building a platform for research and discovering the most effective models for mental health care of homebound elderly patients. So many programs like this fail because of lack of funding. This endowment gives the program permanence.”

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Media Contacts: Ann Hopkins, ahopkins@wfubmc.edu, at 336-716-6907.

About Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center: Wake Forest Baptist is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital and Wake Forest University Health Sciences, which operates the university’s School of Medicine. The system comprises 1,298 acute care, psychiatric, rehabilitation and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report.

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