In the 1970s the Veterans Health Administration began planning to meet the challenges the aging World War II Veteran population would present. At the time the field of geriatric medicine was rather small, so to help grow the field and develop the infrastructure necessary to handle the complexities such a large influx of elderly patients would present the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Centers (GRECCs) were developed. GRECCs were meant to attract scientists and health science students to the field of geriatrics in order to help increase the basic knowledge of aging, transmit this knowledge to health care providers, and improve the quality of care delivered to elders.
Each GRECC contains a research component, a education component, and a clinical component. Currently there are 19 GRECCs which compete for research grants to conduct basic laboratory research on the origins of aging and the diseases commonly associated with it as well as research how care is delivered to elders and the effects of rehabilitation. GRECCs help disseminate existing knowledge of geriatrics and new discoveries gained through research by offering regular educational events and products such as national conferences, regional conferences, telephone and video conferences, special fellowship programs to train physicians in geriatric medicine, conducting grand rounds and journal clubs, and producing peer reviewed papers and other materials such as newsletters, CD-ROMs, and web based presentations. The GRECCs also work with clinical staff in VA medical centers to provide care to elderly Veterans and demonstrate new and improved ways for that care to be delivered.
GRECCs are not meant to be large enterprises but centers of excellence with a core staff equaling 12 full time employees. Each year these small research units publish hundreds of peer reviewed articles, provide thousands of person hours in geriatric education, and are awarded millions of dollars in research grants. More significantly they provide care to the aging Veteran population while at the same time training many of the healthcare professional which will provide that care for years to come.