Profiles in Social Work
Raising Awareness of HIV/AIDS in Older Adults
Charles Emlet, PhD
When Dr. Charles Emlet began his college career in 1971, he was majoring in agriculture. He recalls, however, “There was a powerful undercurrent flowing through my life that emanated from two extraordinary grandmothers who were both models for successful aging.
While he maintained his focus on agriculture and soil science, everything changed when he took an undergraduate course entitled Introduction to Social Welfare. The MSW who taught the course worked in mental health and aging. This social worker influence, coupled with remarkable memories of his grandmothers created what he calls an “an irresistible influence.” He changed majors and begin the study of social work at California State University Fresno. As a graduate student in his MSW program, he did everything possible to focus on gerontology, despite the fact there was no organized concentration. His practicum, and graduate thesis focused on aging and after graduation, he held direct practice positions and administrative positions in county public health for approximately 25 years.
In 1986, in the early years of the AIDS pandemic, Emlet had written a grant to begin an AIDS home care project for the Public Health Department of Solano County, California. When the grant was funded, it needed an administrative home. Because he was already familiar with interdisciplinary teams of social workers and public health nurses, the project was assigned to him.. Not long after the project’s initiation he recalls, “I started seeing older adults on my AIDS caseload. But, they would not avail themselves of the services used by many of our younger clients. The gerontologist in me said, wow there is something important happening here.”
He returned to school to pursue doctoral studies at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University and completed his Ph.D in 1998. In 1999 he took his first full time academic position at the University of Washington Tacoma. New to academe, he applied to the Hartford Geriatric Social Work Faculty Scholars program in 2000 and was named a Hartford Scholar for Cohort II (2001-2003). The subject of the research project was a natural extension of his doctoral dissertation, focusing on the psychosocial issues faced by older, HIV+ adults. Dr. Emlet states that “the financial and professional support from the Faculty Scholars program of the Geriatric Social Work Initiative launched a research and professional agenda that is still picking up momentum.”
His research on stigma and social support among older HIV+ adults funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation was some of the first of its kind in the U.S. The Hartford supported study provided a solid platform to obtain funding from the NIH to further explore the topic of stigma and co occurring ageism, and to try to better understand the issues older adults with HIV/AIDS face. This once invisible population is how receiving increased attention. The Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on this topic in 2005 for which he provided written testimony. His work was also highlighted in a New York Times article in January of 2008 discussing the impact of longevity with HIV/AIDS.
Concerning the GSWI, he states “in addition to supporting my research, the GSWI has provided a venue to meet and work with the top leaders in the field of gerontological social work throughout the nation. Because of the networking created through this program, senior scholars are known and approachable, while many of the next generation of gerontological social work scholars I consider my peers and close colleagues. The development of these important and meaningful relationships would not have occurred if not for the GSWI.” His future goals involve the continuation of teaching and research and the hopes to develop a stigma intervention to help decrease the intrapersonal and interpersonal elements of stigma faced by older adults with HIV/AIDS. He summarizes his experience by saying “as I think about the future direction of my career, I see many opportunities, limited only by time and energy. The GSWI and the individuals involved in these programs have my deepest and most sincere gratitude and respect for their work in developing this important initiative.
- contributed by Dan Kaplan LICSW, LMSW, CSW-G, QDCS
Updated on November 18, 2010
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