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Monday, April 12, 2021
Barbara Bowers (right) and Barbara King, faculty members of the UW-Madison School of Nursing, recently received national awards for their research advancing health care for the elderly. 

Barbara Bowers (right) and Barbara King, faculty members of the UW-Madison School of Nursing, recently received national awards for their research advancing health care for the elderly. 

Two UW nurse-scientists honored

Two UW-Madison School of Nursing faculty members earned awards from the Midwest Nursing Research Society for their research on gerontological nursing.

MNRS is a premiere society that supports and promotes scholars’ research on health care and presents annual awards to researchers in the Midwest region who made significant contributions to the field of nursing.

Barbara J. Bowers, the associate dean for research and sponsored programs and winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2017, was recognized for her extraordinary work on improving caregiver’s quality of life and quality of care. Barbara J. King, the assistant professor at UW-Madison, received the John A. Hartford Foundation Award for her study on optimizing patient care for older adults.

Both Bowers and King considered the awards as great honor.

“It’s always very meaningful to be recognized by your peers,” said Bowers. “I have been fortunate to have a fantastic team around me, a really supportive environment, and very skilled and committed partners in just about everything I have done.”

“To be recognized that the work that you do is going to change how care is delivered to older adults is really an honor because my ultimate goal is to improve care for older adults,” said King.

Published more than 130 academic papers and co-authored 19 books of health care qualities, Bowers spent decades on changing public policies and organizational strategies to improve the qualities of elders’ lives for elders since she found her place in geriatrics.

One of the projects Bowers took part in was the Wisconsin Partnership Program. Designed to help “low income, chronically ill and disabled older adults” since mid 1990s, the program now serves almost 10,000 people in Wisconsin.

Bowers is currently working on a national, multisite study of an innovative program, which aims to help at the extremely disabled, many with dementia, and their caregivers, to live in a supportive environment.

“Caregivers are often family members, mostly adult children but more and more, grandchildren. They are often surprised by and unprepared for decisions they have to make. This is really stressful and often results in decisions that are later regretted,” said Bowers.

Her current work is building an “evidence-based, easy to use and really relevant” app to help these caregivers anticipate and prepare for situations that are likely to occur, Bowers explained.

The completion of a research project often relies on the persistence of participators, but with the an annual 70 percent of turnover rates in nursing assistants, said Bowers this is especially challenging.

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“As the disability level of residents continues to rise, staff are really hard pressed to find any time to support a research project,” Bowers said, expressing concern about the particpants as well.

Although research requires long-term dedication, both Bowers and King said their families were very supportive of their academic work.

Once a practitioner of nursing, King said she was inspired by both patients and caregivers during her 30 years of practicing and five years of researching.

Before becoming a researcher and building her healthcare model, King had being thinking about problems that the older population was facing during and after hospitalization. She noticed that older patients didn’t function as expected after leaving the hospital.

“As a nurse I know that my profession is our gear towards improving health and wellbeing, but the outcome was disconnected and I started to wonder why,” King said. “I want to improve outcome for patients but I also want to help nurses deliver the best healthcare they can and knock down some of these barriers within our hospital systems.”

King spent six months brainstorming and planning, then another 18 months designing and developing the healthcare model with her team members.

Currently, she is focusing on testing the outcomes of this model of care at a patient level and a health care level by improving frequency of patient ambulation.

In this long-term study, King said they would encourage older patients to walk more during and after hospital stays and follow the participants for six months after they go home. The results could help caregivers optimize their work quality.

The ultimate goal of her study is to build a system that helps older patients spend less time in hospitals but leave with better outcomes, said King.

“Our aging population is growing, which means healthcare costs could soar even more than what we have. So we have to think about a way to do good quality care that’s cost-effective,” King said.

Both Bowers and King started their research locally but expect their works to make national impacts.

“This is really a Wisconsin idea, but on a larger scale, taking what we’ve done and what we know and moving that forward to not only improve the health of our own citizens in Wisconsin, but health and wellbeing for individuals across the United States,” said King. 

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