Transportation planners, social workers, and allied health care professionals can work collaboratively and use my research for human betterment and societal advancement on a larger scale. “

Vivian MillerEvery year, the Hogg Foundation gives the Frances Fowler Wallace Memorial Award for Mental Health Dissertation Research to eligible doctoral candidates at institutions of higher education in Texas. Awardees receive a $1,500 scholarship to help cover research-related expenses.

One of this year’s recipients, Vivian J. Miller, is a third-year doctoral candidate at the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Arlington. Her study is titled “Transportation, Social Support by Family Visitation, and Depression among Nursing Home Residents: A Mixed-Methods Study.” We recently talked with Miller about the aims, methods, and contexts of her research project:

Hogg Foundation: At what point did you decide to pursue a career in social work, and what influenced that decision?

Miller: I decided to pursue a career in Gerontological Social Work (SW) immediately after taking “Intro to SW” as an undergraduate. During my Master of Science in Social Administration studies, while interning at a long-term care facility in Cleveland, Ohio, I developed a deep interest in advancing knowledge and research that enhances the well-being and promotes the human rights of older adults residing in nursing homes—a particularly vulnerable population. The relationships I’ve had with my grandparents, especially my late grandfather Bud, were my main inspiration.

Hogg Foundation: What questions are you trying to answer with your research?

Miller: My research seeks to answer the following:

  • How does transportation of family members directly affect mental health outcomes (e.g. depression) of residents in nursing homes?
  • How does transportation of family members indirectly affect depression outcomes of residents in nursing homes through the mediation role of family social support by visitation?
  • What are both the challenges and opportunities to transportation, as well as positive and negative experiences of transportation by family members, as they affect visitation of residents in nursing homes?

Hogg Foundation: What led to your taking a professional interest in this particular topic?

Miller: I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given working as Research Assistant on a variety of interdisciplinary and interprofessional projects between the School of Social Work and the College of Engineering at The University of Texas at Arlington. While civil engineering conventionally focuses on construction and design of the built environment to improve the lives of community members, social work, too, is interested in promoting social justice. Ultimately, this led me to my current research agenda at the intersection of social science and transportation planning.

Hogg Foundation: How do you think your research methods and approach will help you to answer the questions that you’re posing?

Miller: I am utilizing a mixed-methodological study design. Creswell and Plano Clark (2018) write that mixed-methodological research is uniquely able to address problems in social and health sciences, and that the use of quantitative or qualitative approaches alone is inadequate to address the complexities of each field. First, I will ask nursing home residents and their family members questions using a number of survey instruments. Findings from this quantitative phase will inform a qualitative follow-up. Together, I’ll be able to gather both an objective analysis and an in-depth understanding of this issue.

Hogg Foundation: Can you recommend any readings for those who might be interested in learning more about this topic? 

Miller: The following articles highlight barriers to family members visiting residents in nursing homes:

  • Bern-Klug, M. (2008). The emotional context facing nursing home residents’ families: A call for role reinforcement strategies from nursing homes and the community. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 9, 36-44.
  • Choi, N.G., Ransom, S., & Wyllie, R.J. (2008). Depression in older nursing home residents: The influence of nursing home environmental stressors, coping, and acceptance of group and individual therapy. Aging & Mental Health, 12(5), 536-547.
  • Gaugler, J.E. (2005). Family involvement in residential long-term care: A synthesis and critical review. Ageing and Mental Health, 9(2), 105-118.
  • Parker Oliver, D., Demiris, G., & Hensel, B. (2006). A promising technology to reduce social isolation of nursing home residents. Journal of Nursing Care Quarterly, 21(4), 302-305.
  • Port, C.L. (2004). Identifying changeable barriers to family involvement in the nursing home for cognitively impaired residents. The Gerontologist, 44(6), 770-778.