The UCCS Aging Center

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History of the UCCS Aging Center

Twenty years may not seem like such a long time ago until you consider what was commonplace in 1999: professors using overhead projectors during lectures, connecting to the Internet with dial-up, listening to music on a Sony Walkman, and saving files to a floppy disk. That was the year the UCCS Aging Center (then called the CU Aging Center or CUAC) opened its doors, on January 25, 1999, at 1510 North Hancock Avenue, next door to the Senior Center in the Golf Acres Shopping Center. Its purpose was to serve as a training clinic for the still-developing doctoral program in geropsychology as well as a community mental health clinic for underserved older adults. The need was clear: At the time, the 55+ plus population was projected to reach more than 155,000 in El Paso and Teller counties; today the forecast is nudging 200,000.

Identity Crisis

In 1984, Dr. Robert P. Larkin founded the Center on Aging (now called the Gerontology Center) at UCCS. Initially the Gerontology Center offered classes for older adult learners in the Colorado Springs area. Later the program was expanded to administer the gerontology minor and the Professional Advancement Certificate in Gerontology. The Gerontology Center reflected the effort of multiple academic disciplines (e.g., biology, geography, psychology, sociology) and committed faculty members who shared a scientific interest in the aging process. Dr. Sara Qualls became director of the Center on Aging in 1991.

When it came time to name the new training clinic, Dr. Qualls and co-founder Dr. Daniel L. Segal searched for a name that was descriptive yet destigmatizing. At one point it was called the “UCCS Older Adult and Family Counseling Center,” but that was rejected in favor of “the CU Aging Center.” Yet it wasn’t until 2003 that the Center on Aging became the Gerontology Center. Confused yet?

About the Logo

Due to the confusion between the Center on Aging (now the Gerontology Center) and the CU Aging Center (now the UCCS Aging Center), the Aging Center sought to establish its own identity by creating a logo (clearly skirting any CU branding standards that existed at the time). Director Mike Kenny hired a graphic designer who artfully combined the CU logo with A and C for the Aging Center, while simulating the sun rising over a mountaintop. Said Dr. Kenny: “The design was intended to capture a bit of the mountain beauty that surrounds us and a sense of light and hope in the process of daily struggles.”

The Wonder Years

We easily could borrow the title of a late 1980s/early 1990s TV show to describe the early years of the Aging Center. (I wonder where we’ll get the money… I wonder where we can get some furniture… I wonder if anyone knows how to network computers.) The first hurdle (other than the name) was finding an affordable location off campus that would be easily accessible for older adults. “We knew that to have a training clinic for a program focused on aging it needed to be a clinic that served the community and was accessible to the community,” said Dr. Qualls. “It didn’t make sense to do what most psychology departments do, which is stick the training clinic in the middle of the department… We couldn’t do that here because older adults [particularly those with cognitive impairment] couldn’t navigate parking on the main campus, get into the building, and find their way around.” A realtor helped locate a cozy space at 1510 N. Hancock that met the criteria, and Dr. Segal became the first director. The founders begged and borrowed used furniture and a decorator friend used Goodwill artwork and creativity to “take this weird set of things we had and turn them into coherent rooms that weren’t offensive to walk into,” Dr. Qualls recalled.

Start-up funds from a handful of donors, including the Luther T. McCauley Charitable Trust, the Frontier Village Foundation, and the J.H. Edmondson Foundation, amounted to $33,800, most of which was spent on renovating the office space. A private donor also contributed $10,000 toward operating costs, and Colorado Springs Utilities donated six computers. UCCS would pay the lease cost, part of the director’s salary, and faculty time for student supervision. Although additional gifts would be pursued, the founders were not worried about the balance sheet. The plan was for Medicare revenue to fund services, so that the clinic would be self-sustaining by the third year.

Alas…best-laid plans fell apart within the first year. Prior to 1998, Medicare permitted student clinicians to bill for services. Based on that premise, Dr. Qualls promised UCCS Chancellor Linda Bunnell that “the clinic wouldn’t cost a thing” because insurance reimbursements would generate sufficient revenue. In April 1999, less than four months after the Aging Center opened its doors, Dr. Qualls learned that Medicare rules had changed to disallow payment of services provided by trainees. “I was sick. I didn’t sleep for days,” said Dr. Qualls. Although UCCS fortunately was not charged a penalty, the Aging Center had to return $29,000 and was left searching for a new funding model.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that when the future of the nascent Aging Center looked grim, the mountain lion became the official mascot of UCCS (replacing the giraffe). After almost losing its neck, the Aging Center roared back to fulfill its pledge to the campus and the community (…groan).

Pioneering Spirit

During the first year of operation, four part-time faculty and staff and three master’s students provided 460 hours of services to 70 clients. Former Assistant Director John Crumlin, who also was a doctoral student and postdoctoral fellow at the Aging Center, recalled those days as “challenging, but it was a lot of fun. It was very much flying by the seat of our pants…It was just a wonderful feeling of building something out of nothing and making it work.” No one knew how to network the computers, and everyone pitched in to do everything from washing windows to cleaning toilets. Ivan Molton, Ph.D., now Associate Professor of Psychology and Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington, was one of those first three trainees. He was tasked with setting up a communication system that would allow real-time feedback to trainees during testing or therapy, all on a budget of $50. The only solution in that price range was walkie-talkies. “Inevitably this led to shenanigans,” Ivan chuckled. “During feedback sessions, if Sara, Dan, or Mike [Kenny, future director] weren’t around, we would mess with each other: ‘Ask him about the penguins’…‘I think he likes you,’ and that kind of thing. In our defense, we would generally only do that when practicing with each other, not with actual patients…mostly.”

In 2002, Dr. Segal passed the director’s reins to Dr. Michael Kenny, who had been working part-time at the Aging Center as a staff psychologist. Reported hijinks and playfulness during the Hancock years included bowling down the long hallway, bike-riding and bubble-blowing breaks, and playing Whac-a-Mole, all to relieve stress in the midst of difficult challenges. Plenty of tears flowed as well, sometimes after a brutally candid session with beloved supervisor Dr. Ira Rosenbaum, who forced students to drill down on the nuances of case conceptualization. Dr. Sheri Gibson, former trainee and local licensed psychologist, was among students who came to appreciate Dr. Rosenbaum’s commitment to training and concern for clients, within the larger Aging Center “family.” “It really, truly does take a village to raise a clinical psychologist, and I felt like I was raised in the perfect village at the Aging Center,” said Dr. Gibson. “It was a community of support, training, mentorship, collegiality, and professionalism.”

A 2002 progress report listed four core programs as the Memory and Cognitive Disabilities Clinic, Psychological Disorders Clinic, Family Consultation Services, and the Life Transitions Resource Center. “The CU Aging Center has its greatest impact by changing individual lives from a focus on loss, deterioration, or dependency toward coping, mastery, and purposive living,” wrote Dr. Segal. In its first three years of operation, the Aging Center provided 195 older adults with 2,049 hours of services across all programs. “From the very beginning we recognized that the Aging Center was a place with heart,” Dr. Segal added.

A Long Road to the Ph.D.

The Aging Center was a crucial component of UCCS’s Ph.D. program in geropsychology, the seeds of which had been planted more than a decade earlier. Dr. Qualls began championing the idea almost as soon as she arrived in 1984. It took another 20 years for the program to become a reality. In 2004, UCCS launched the first doctoral-level geropsychology training program in the Rocky Mountain region, one of only four such programs in the country. The program responded to a growing need not being addressed elsewhere in the state. In the inaugural class were Shannon Foster, Kimberly Hiroto, Molly Maxfield, Tara Noecker, and Mary Stephens. The Ph.D. program was accredited by the American Psychological Association in 2007, when Mary Stephens became the first graduate. Still today there are only 16 doctoral programs in psychology that provide geropsychology training consistent with the Pikes Peak Model for Training in Professional Geropsychology, 16 internship programs, and 15 geropsychology postdoctoral programs. In a recent survey, only 1.2% of doctoral-level psychologists described geropsychology as their specialty, despite the growing proportion of older adults in the population (expected to top 20% by 2030; Moye, Karel, Stamm, Qualls & Segal, Tazeau, & DiGilio, 2019). UCCS is proud to have contributed to the geropsychology workforce, awarding nearly 30 doctoral degrees and training some 60 clinicians who currently lead training and service programs throughout the country.

With its dual identity of training clinic and community mental health center, the Aging Center provides state-of-the-art psychological assessment and treatment services to older adults and their families, trains graduate students in the practice of clinical geropsychology, and studies psychological aging processes. The Aging Center is unique in its ability to serve clients on a sliding-scale basis determined by income or, in some cases, without charge for grant-funded programs. Within the past few years the clinic also began accepting Medicare for services provided by licensed clinicians. “The thing that I want people to know most about the Aging Center is that every single person who works there has a passion for working with older adults,” said Dr. Maxfield, now Associate Professor of Psychology at UCCS.

Partnerships and Recognition

In 2005, the Aging Center moved a few doors down to a larger space at 1436 N. Hancock. The director’s position was increased from half to full time, a project director was hired to write grant proposals, and a volunteer Community Development Committee was formed to generate annual giving. Of its nine original members, Mary Osborne remains as an active supporter. Also that year, the Aging Center initiated an integrated care partnership with Peak Vista Community Health Centers as part of its Clinicians in the Community program. This program links the Aging Center with other senior-focused agencies to improve the quality of care through coordinated mental health, medical, and social services. At two Peak Vista clinics, patients are screened for depression and anxiety, and student trainees provide on-site behavioral health services. In-home consultations also are available to enhance chronic disease management for seniors coping with diabetes. In 2009 the Aging Center partnered with the Rocky Mountain Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), which helps older adults achieve their highest level of independence through a multidisciplinary team approach to health care. A partnership with Pikes Peak Hospice and Palliative Care was added in 2013 to provide counseling, assessment, and consultative services for seniors at the end of life and their families. (Unfortunately, this rotation will not be offered in 2019-2020 due to lack of funding.) Since 2015 the Aging Center also has partnered with Silver Key Senior Services to connect older adults to mental health services and case management through the Senior Outreach Services (SOS) program (initially called Senior Reach).

The Aging Center’s innovative programs have received local, statewide, and national recognition. The clinic was named a finalist for the 2011 El Pomar Foundation Awards of Excellence in the health care category and received the 2012 Joe Henjum Senior Accolades Award for Integrated Caregiver Services. The UCCS Ph.D. program in psychology also was selected by the Council of Professional Geropsychology Training Programs for the 2012 Innovative Training Award and in 2014 received its second multiyear Graduate Psychology Education (GPE) grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (one of only 40 programs in the country to be funded by the federal agency for doctoral-level training; another three-year GPE grant was awarded in 2016).

Funding

Like many nonprofits, funding has been a challenge for the Aging Center throughout its history. Although the university covers the costs of training, the Aging Center must raise the portion of its budget (the majority) that meets community needs for services. Many private foundations have provided generous support (see list), in addition to the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments Area Agency on Aging (PPACG AAA) and individual donors. From 2010-2012 the Aging Center hosted Ageless Cuisine, a benefit launched to raise awareness of the need for comprehensive mental health care for seniors and caregivers while appealing to the region’s love for local, original cuisine. Celebrity chefs volunteered their time and expertise through demonstrations, sharing experiences, and cooking unique appetizers for sampling. For the past two years (2017 and 2018), the Aging Center has participated in the local IndyGive campaign, which has generated approximately $30,000 annually. Revenue from Medicare services also contributes to the clinic’s long-term sustainability.

The Fast Lane

In 2014 the Aging Center moved from its humble office space to the Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences on the UCCS campus. The goal of the Lane Center was to provide integrated health care, particularly for older adults. The Aging Center is one of five UCCS HealthCircle clinics, including a nurse-managed Primary Care Clinic, the Veterans Health and Trauma Clinic, the Center for Active Living, and Peak Nutrition. Also housed in the Lane Center is one of Peak Vista Community Health Centers’ family clinics and a branch of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Today the Aging Center provides approximately 3,000 clients with about 9,000 service hours annually throughout all its programs. Clients—particularly overwhelmed caregivers—have described the Aging Center as a “lifeline” and “hidden gem” in the community. Said one client: “I was accepted here with low income and resources…and given support through some very difficult conflicts. The Aging Center probably saved my life.”

The Future

The Aging Center is unique. Although there are other mental health providers in El Paso County, the Aging Center is 1) the sole mental health clinic for older adults in Colorado Springs, 2) a low-cost clinic that serves clients with few resources, 3) a training clinic affiliated with a nationally recognized geropsychology program, one of only a handful in the country, and 4) a partner in providing integrated care with other area agencies serving seniors. Challenges and opportunities in the future continue to be sustainable funding and balancing the desire to serve many vulnerable older adults in the community with the need to provide high-quality training to graduate students. We remain gratified and humbled each day by the resilience of our clients and the success of our trainees. One recent Aging Center alumna commented that the Aging Center pushes clinicians “to expect a lot of our clients,” to see that “the possibilities are endless for older adults who are looking to live their best life.” The Aging Center’s impact in the Pikes Peak region has been significant over the course of 20 years, and we invite you to celebrate this milestone anniversary with us!

References

Moye, J., Karel, M. J., Stamm, K. E., Qualls, S. H., & Segal, D., Tazeau, Y. N., & DiGilio, D. (2019). Workforce analysis of psychological practice with older adults: Growing crisis requires urgent action. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 13, 46-55. doi:10.1037/tep0000206

Qualls, S. H., Segal, D. L., Benight, C. C., & Kenny, M. P. (2005). Geropsychology training in a specialist geropsychology doctoral program. Gerontology and Geriatrics Education, 25(4), 21-40.

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Inclusive Space

UCCS HealthCircle Clinics
Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences
4863 North Nevada Avenue
Colorado Springs, CO 80918
719-255-4401