President's Column: Advancing the AAGP Mission

Published Monday, April 22, 2013
by David C. Steffens, MD, MHS, AAGP President
AAGP President David C. Steffens

I hope that you were able to attend last month’s AAGP Annual Meeting in Los Angeles. By almost any measure, this was one of our most successful meetings in years. Attendees came from all across the United States and the globe, with 20 countries represented. During four days of programming, a multi-disciplinary group of AAGP presenters connected with clinicians, educators and researchers. We offered six pre-conferences and workshops, and the 108 participants at the newly modified Review in Geriatric Psychiatry course were given the opportunity to claim Self-Assessment Maintenance of Certification CME credits. And the Annual Meeting helped push AAGP growth across all categories of membership. Currently we have almost 1300 members, 180 members-in-training and 32 student members.

In two plenary sessions, we presented the findings and recommendations of the Institute of Medicine report, The Mental Health and Substance Use Workforce for Older Adults: In Whose Hands? A key message of the report is that at least 5.6 million to 8 million—nearly one in five—older adults in America have one or more mental health or substance use conditions, which present unique challenges for their care. There are clear recommendations to Congress, to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and to organizations responsible for accreditation, certification, and professional examination, all addressing the workforce needs related to geriatric mental health and substance use disorders. Further, it is evident that part of the task of moving the IOM recommendations forward lies in our hands—with the AAGP at an organizational level and with individual AAGP members who are uniquely positioned to partner with colleagues and advocacy groups at the local level to urge elected officials to implement the report’s recommendations.

Between now and next March when we meet again in Orlando, AAGP will be working on several initiatives. Broadly speaking, we hope to solidify our identity as the organization that represents the interests of older adults with mental illness and/or substance use disorders. The path forward to achieve this goal is clear and includes several steps. First, we grow as a team of professionals that embraces our diversity: we need more nurses and social workers, physicians and psychologists, clinicians and educators, researchers and administrators. We then focus our advocacy efforts as an organization to support federal and state implementation of the IOM workforce recommendations so that older patients and families can receive the care they need and deserve. We will empower individual members through education, small group advocacy and connection with stakeholders.

Another key ingredient to becoming the “go to” organization for older adults suffering from mental disorders and substance abuse is recognizing and promoting our publication, the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Under the capable leadership of Dilip Jeste, editor-in-chief for the past 13 years, the AJGP has become the premier journal in aging and mental health, has achieved an Impact Factor above 3.6, and ranks in the top third of both the Psychiatry and Geriatrics/Gerontology categories. In January 2013, AAGP entered into a new and promising relationship with Elsevier as the publisher of the AJGP. During this time of growth and change, we are confident that Dr. Jeste and his team will continue to provide unparalleled stewardship and leadership of the journal in the years ahead.

Finally, one crucial group to target in order to ensure that we retain our unique position as the mental health and substance abuse organization for older adults are our trainees. From undergraduates to medical and graduate students to postdoctoral fellows, residents and clinical fellows, learners in medicine, psychology, gerontology, nursing, neuropsychology and social work all need the support of AAGP and its members. And I am happy to report that this support is there. AAGP members provided scholarships to attend the AAGP meeting to a record 35 trainees, 22 of whom received full support as Honors Scholars. The number of trainee travel awards financially supported by AAGP membership has risen steadily over the past several years since the program was instituted—representing a real challenge to us for the 2014 Annual Meeting!

Despite tough economic times, AAGP is strong. Under my predecessors, Paul Kirwin and Allan Anderson, we navigated difficult waters and positioned ourselves to succeed going forward as a diverse, multi-disciplinary organization that is single-mindedly focused on improving care for our patients, advancing research, and teaching and training the next generation. I look forward to working with Laura Dunn, our secretary/treasurer, to continue on this positive path. And our future is bright—our new officers, Susan Schultz (president-elect) and Melinda Lantz (secretary/treasurer-elect) and new board members bring a vitality that will ensure fidelity to our principles and innovative approaches that will advance our mission. Let’s go!