UNE receives nearly $5 million to enhance Maine's geriatrics workforce

UNE health professions students play bingo with seniors at an assisted living facility
UNE will receive nearly $1 million annually to support educational resources for students and health providers and provide age-friendly care for Maine's older adult population.

The University of New England has received nearly $5 million in funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to educate and train Maine’s health care workforce over the next five years to best meet the dynamic health needs of older adults.

Currently, there are fewer than 7,300 physicians who are board-certified geriatricians, representing fewer than 1% of all physicians in the United States. According to the American Geriatrics Society, the U.S. needs to train approximately 20,000 geriatricians to meet current needs and as many as 30,000 by 2030 to accommodate this growing aging population.

The five-year grant, totaling $4,999,585, will boost Maine’s Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP), known as AgingME, administered through UNE with support from the federal government since 2019.

HRSA has awarded funding to 42 GWEP programs across the nation as part of its 2024 fiscal year. GWEP is the only federally funded program dedicated to educating and training health care professionals, including direct care workers, in geriatrics.

“We are thrilled and honored to receive this vital funding from HRSA to tackle workforce needs and better support Maine’s rural, older adults,” said Susan Wehry, M.D., director of AgingME at UNE. “Over the next five years, in partnership with Maine’s Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and the University of Maine's Center on Aging, UNE's College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Center for Excellence in Public Health will focus on the direct care workforce and rural education with new and innovative strategies.”

UNE will receive $999,917 annually to support educational resources for students and health providers, as well as age- and dementia-friendly care for older adults in Maine.

Emphasis will be placed over the next five years on developing the direct care workforce, enhancing rural education, and creating more dementia-inclusive communities, Wehry said. This round of AgingME funding will particularly focus on integration with AHEC, engagement with the Wabanaki Nation, and pioneering rural education initiatives.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — who, as vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, secured funding to grow HRSA’s geriatric workforce education programs — said the funding to UNE will bolster the network of providers and services available to older adults across Maine, which has the oldest population of any state in the country.

“For Maine, with an aging population of more than a quarter million Mainers over the age of 65, and fewer than 40 practicing geriatricians, there is an acute need to rapidly train more geriatric health professionals to meet the growing demand,” Collins said in a recent release announcing the funding. 

UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine is Maine’s only medical school, is ranked in the top 20 medical schools nationwide for producing primary care residents, and its Division of Geriatrics is a leader in older adult person-centered care. 

Additionally, UNE is recognized as an Age-Friendly University by the Age Friendly University Global Network, with several initiatives that promote intergenerational engagement and participation of older adults in core activities, including education and research.

Headshot of Susan Wehry

Susan Wehry, M.D.