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New Spafford Chairs to Focus on Aging

Dr. Marilyn Luptak will serve as the next Belle S. Spafford Endowed Chair

June 6, 2011 – The University of Utah College of Social Work has selected the next two Belle S. Spafford Endowed Chairs in Social Work. Marilyn Luptak and Fran Wilby will serve consecutive 18-month terms during the colleagues’ three-year, joint research project.  The Belle S. Spafford Endowed Chair in Social Work is a prestigious position dedicated to improving the lives of Utah’s women and their families.  The Spafford Chair is the only academic position with such a purpose in a school of social work in the country.

Luptak is an assistant professor of social work at the U, where she also directs the Social Work in Aging emphasis for master’s students.  Additionally, she is a J. A. Hartford Geriatric Social Work Faculty Scholar, which has enabled her to advocate for older adults at the state and national levels.  “My interest in serving older adults and their families began when I was a child growing up on a farm surrounded by neighbors who remained on their homesteads well into old age—often until death,” said Luptak.  “My personal interest led to a professional commitment to improve the lives of older persons and their families.”

Wilby is also a member of the social work faculty at the U and is the executive director of the W.D. Goodwill Initiatives on Aging in the College of Social Work.   She received a J. A. Hartford Doctoral Fellows grant to support her dissertation work while pursuing her Ph.D.  “As a young girl, my first job was delivering newspapers to the residents of a retirement home where my father was the administrator,” she recalls.  “As an adult, I began my career in social services working in adult day centers, providing respite care to families of loved ones with various disabilities.  These services were vital to the family in order for family members to continue working and caring for their loved ones at home, thus avoiding institutionalization.”

Luptak and Wilby’s commitment to helping others is evident in their teaching and mentoring of social work students, their service on the Salt Lake County Council for the Aging and the Utah Commission on Aging, and their own research.  Both Luptak and Wilby are currently working on several research projects that examine various aspects of care for older adults in community and institutional settings.  “As with most research in aging,” said Wilby, “the majority of study participants are women.”

“Compared to older men,” explained Luptak, “older women are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to be widowed, and more likely to live with chronic health conditions and disabilities.  Women are also typically the primary caregivers for aging family members, but since most women now work full-time, it’s becoming increasingly challenging for them to care for their older relatives.”

During Luptak and Wilby’s respective terms as the Spafford Chair, with the help of a research assistant, they will conduct a community-based study, in conjunction with Salt Lake County Aging Services, that will result in evidence-based recommendations for policies and programs that will best meet the needs of baby boomers and their families throughout the state.  According to the most recent estimates by AARP, each day, between 8,000 and 10,000 United States residents turn 65 years old.  “This unprecedented shift in our nation’s demographics necessitates an increased volume of high-quality research in this area,” said Wilby.

“The Spafford Selection Committee was impressed with Dr. Luptak and Dr. Wilby’s focus on the rapidly growing population of baby boomers, in particular women, who face increased vulnerabilities during older age,” said Hank Liese, head of the Spafford Chair selection committee.

During this three-year study, Luptak and Wilby  hope to gain insight into post-retirement work and volunteer habits, how older adults search for services, exactly what services are needed, and how well existing community agencies are able to meet those needs.  Additionally, the study will collect information on the age, gender, income level, education level, marital status, religion, working status, and ethnicity of study participants.  They expect to use their findings to help public programs plan for the needs of Utah’s older adults and their families.  The Salt Lake County Area Agency on Aging intends to adopt Luptak and Wilby’s program recommendations and outcome measures when the project is complete.

“The Committee saw strength in the partnership between the researchers and the Salt Lake County Area Agency on Aging,” said Liese.  “This will ensure project sustainability and continually improving aging services, both locally and statewide.  Moreover, this study has the potential to position Salt Lake County as a national leader in developing innovative aging service models.”

The Belle S. Spafford Endowed Chair in Social Work was established in 1982 to honor the pioneering work of the late Belle S. Spafford, the ninth General President of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Former president of the U, Michael K. Young, said of the position, “It is uniquely designed to bring the resources of this great university to bear on the real issues and problems faced by women in the state of Utah.”