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University Relations

Volume 51, Issue 1

November 7, 2008

Colorado Health Foundation grant connects UCCS to community elderly

When the physician at Peak Vista Community Health Centers South Senior Health Center suspected her elderly patient was addicted to anxiety medication, she decided to write a prescription for only one more month’s supply.

As part of a collaborative program with UCCS and the CU Aging Center, the patient received follow-up mental health services in an uninterrupted flow of professionals. As the physician left the exam room, a fourth-year UCCS doctoral student entered and began work on a tapered-down medication plan and behavioral health counseling appointments to eliminate the psychotropic medicines.

Such interagency cooperation, as well as coordination of mental and physical health care, is the model of the future, according to Michael Kenny, executive director, CU Aging Center, and a clinical psychologist.

“Depression and cognitive decline lead to bad decision-making and failure to manage long-term health issues,” Kenny explained. “The connection between mind and body, and treatment with professionals who appreciate the connection, leads to improved health and improved lives.”

But Kenny is no longer opining about the future. Thanks to a three-year $467,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation, UCCS psychology faculty and students training to be clinical psychologists will work hand-in-hand with three Colorado Springs agencies to assist older residents and to provide mental health care integrated with physical health care and social services.

The three agencies, Silver Key Senior Services, Peak Vista Community Health Centers, and Sunny Vista Living Center, will partner with UCCS to improve the health and quality of life of clients. Students in the university’s gerospsychology doctoral program, one of only four in the nation, will provide a seamless line between mental and physical health and social services under the supervision of university faculty.

Because the agencies serve different populations, Kenny is excited to devise processes that effectively use each agency and its contact with older citizens. For example, Silver Key uses volunteers who often deliver meals to homes of citizens who live independently while Sunny Vista is a long-term care facility with a full-time nursing staff. At Peak Vista Community Health Centers, students will be working closely with medical professionals and patients who are seeking help for physical ailments.

For Silver Key, training volunteers to look for behavioral health issues of their clients, and having a mental health specialist available for consultation with case workers, will allow intervention before issues become more serious, or grim.

“A volunteer can observe a change in mood, for example, or might observe that a client isn’t keeping himself up as well as he had in the past,” Kenny said. “Noticing those things could lead to a consultation that could range from a specialist simply talking to the client about how he or she is doing to a recommendation to move to an assisted living facility.”

At Sunny Vista, faculty and students will work closely with staff on individual cases as well as to design group therapy sessions to talk about managing diseases such as diabetes, coronary disease and arthritis.

From the experiences, UCCS faculty and community partners can demonstrate that an integrated mental and physical health model is an effective way to enhance health care and promote wellness. For Kenny, the issue is of concern as baby boom generation members age and place increasing stress on the nation’s health care system.

In addition to community mental health outreach programs, the CU Aging Center provides traditional psychotherapy services, offers comprehensive neuropsychological testing and a memory clinic, and coordinates a caregiver program for distressed families and their aging loved ones. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (719) 471-4884.

The CU Aging Center opened in 1999 and is the premier mental health facility for older adults and their families in the Pikes Peak Region. The center operates concurrently with the UCCS Department of Psychology as a primary training site for doctoral students in the Psychology of Aging (Geropsychology) program. For more information, visit

Colorado Health Foundation
The Colorado Health Foundation works to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation by increasing the number of Coloradans with health insurance, ensuring they have access to quality, coordinated care and encouraging healthy living. The Foundation invests in the community through grants and initiatives to health-related nonprofits that focus on these goals, as well as operating medical education programs to increase the health care workforce. The Foundation's assets of more than $1 billion include an investment portfolio as well as an ownership interest in Denver’s HealthONE hospital system. For more information, please visit

Peak Vista Community Health Centers
Peak Vista Community Health Centers is the largest provider of primary care and the only Federally Qualified Health Center serving older adults in the Pikes Peak region. Seniors are a priority patient population for this non-profit. For more information, visit

Silver Key Senior Services
Silver Key is the largest regional senior services agency and provides non-medical essential services to older adults, many of whom are homebound. For more information, visit

Sunny Vista Living Center
Sunny Vista Living Center, 2400 E. Cache La Poudre Street, Colorado Springs, is a small, independent facility that provides long-term care and short term rehabilitation services for community elderly in a comfortable, safe environment. For more information, contact Janet Burns, administrator, or visit


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