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Caring for West Virginia’s aging populations

Heather Beeseck, MSW ’21

With senior citizens making up nearly 20% of West Virginia’s population, one West Virginia University student has committed her career to helping them transition from skilled nursing facilities back into the community. 

Heather Beeseck
Heather Beeseck

During her field placement at Mapleshire Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Master of Social Work student Heather Beeseck recognized that older clients needed access to more support services, especially when they were only temporarily in a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation.

“I’ve gotten to do so much there. I learned how to do mental health assessments. I did a lot of psychosocial support for our residents and their families. I took tours of local assisted living facilities and networked with other local agencies,” said Beeseck, a Keyser native. “My biggest focus was transition planning for people who were leaving the nursing home and returning to the community. I did a lot of discharge planning, working with families and residents to see what their goals were and help them transition back into the community.”

As a person with a disability, Beeseck is also active in volunteering as a board member for the Northern West Virginia Center for Independent Living.  

“An employee from the WVU Center for Service and Learning encouraged me to join the board because of my passion for self-determination for people with disabilities, including older adults,” Beeseck said. “Mentorship from the staff and fellow board members at the Center for fueled my passion for community-based care.”  

At the end of her internship, Mapleshire hired her as a part-time social work assistant, a position she continues today along with her graduate assistantship as a student success coach for first-year WVU students.

“Heather did an outstanding job throughout her internship, so we were thrilled when we were able to hire her on,” said Jennifer Kunkle, a social worker at Mapleshire. “She has developed an excellent rapport with our residents and is an asset to the social services department and the facility.”  

At Mapleshire, Beeseck blends her passions for helping others and rural places, which stems from her undergraduate work in geography with an emphasis on rural development.

“I’ve always been interested in rural issues and the problems people living in rural communities face, especially with access to services. Social work was a really good fit for me to be hands-on,” Beeseck said. “I really liked the theory of my undergraduate degree, but when I was actually working, I just wanted to be more in the midst of things working hands-on with people.”

After graduation, she hopes she can continue these efforts as a geriatric social worker in West Virginia.

“We really have an aging population as a country as a whole, but especially in this state. The state has a lot of issues with lack of resources, especially for people in rural areas, so we really need social workers who are willing to do a bit of traveling and be willing to get into those places where there just aren’t the services available so that we can help people stay in their homes for as long as they safely can,” Beeseck said. “It has been scientifically shown repeatedly that people have better outcomes when they can stay in their own home as long as possible. That is something I am really passionate about – helping people reintegrate back into the community when they have been in a nursing home or assisted living facility and doing anything we can as a state to set up policies and support to help people stay in the community as long as we can.”  

This article is part of a series highlighting WVU School of Social Work students during National Social Work Month.