UCSF receives five-year grant to research personal assistance services for people with disabilities

By Kristen Bole

The UCSF School of Nursing has received its second $4.25 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to continue the work of the Center for Personal Assistance Services (PAS).

The funding, for which the school competed with other institutions nationwide, will enable UCSF to continue its research and training activities related to personal care services provided to people with disabilities.

“Being awarded this grant for the second time in a row is a testament to the important work that the Center for Personal Assistance Services has accomplished in the past five years,” said Kathleen Dracup, RN, DNSc, dean of the School of Nursing. “We are excited about the progress we can make for people with disabilities in the next five years.”

The Center will continue to study issues regarding the availability and quality of services provided by formal and informal caregivers to some 15 million people nationwide who need help performing activities of daily living, according to Charlene Harrington, PhD, RN, UCSF professor emerita of sociology and nursing, and the Center’s director and principal investigator.

“The emphasis of our work is on providing support so that people with disabilities can live and work independently in their community, as opposed to being institutionalized in a nursing home,” Harrington said.

In the last five years, research through the UCSF Center has determined a more fiscally feasible cost for such care than was previously estimated by the Congressional Budget Office for the Community Choice Act (CCA). The CCA would allow Medicaid to pay for home and community-based services, rather than solely placement in a nursing home, for those who qualify for nursing home level of care. Center research also found that wage levels for PAS workers fell behind those of comparable occupations and that health benefits are scarce and job turnover rates are high among workers.

Common services provided by a personal care attendant include help with bathing, eating, dressing, walking, taking medication and shopping for groceries, Harrington said.

The UCSF Center will continue to conduct research in workforce issues related to home-based and community care. Other research and training topics will include:

* Improving access to PAS for people with disabilities
* Strengthening the PAS workforce to support individuals who are employed or seeking employment
* Understanding the economics behind PAS, including the relationship among PAS, employment, employment supports, and assistive technology (assistive technologies are those products that improve or enhance the functional capabilities of those with disabilities)

The Center also will continue to seek guidance and feedback from the community by working with its advisory committee, which is composed of local and national PAS users, disability advocates, business leaders, independent living center directors and academics. In addition, the Center will collaborate with faculty members at the Burton Blatt Institute, InfoUse, PHI (formerly the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute), Research Triangle Institute, and the Topeka Independent Living Resource Center, and will work with consultants at the University of Maryland, University of Michigan and the Cardiff Business School.

Since 1994, work conducted in the UCSF School of Nursing, and specifically in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and the Institute for Health and Aging, has focused on research and advocacy issues facing people with disabilities. Harrington said the Center’s faculty members are among the nation’s leading researchers in their field, with decades of research and policy experience, hundreds of academic publications, and teaching experience in disability, health, long-term care, and policy studies.

Co-principal investigators for the Center include Steve Kaye, PhD, research director, and Mitch LaPlante, PhD, director, both of the UCSF Disability Statistics Center; Bob Newcomer, PhD, UCSF professor of sociology; and Lewis Kraus, MPH of InfoUse, a Berkeley-based firm specializing in technology that aids people with disabilities. Other UCSF faculty members include Susan Chapman, PhD, RN; Amy Houtrow, MD, MPH; Joe Mullan, PhD; and Taewoon Kang, PhD.

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Services.

The UCSF School of Nursing leads the nation in nursing research, from heart disease and cancer to pain management and healthy aging. The School consistently ranks first in funding from the National Institutes of Health, as a testament to the caliber of that research. The School has graduated more than 10,000 nurses since inception of a UC nursing education program in 1907 and is considered among the foremost nursing schools in the world in training the next generation of nursing leadership.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.