WestSuburban Medical Center wants a growing number of geriatric patients in theChicago area to have an experience like none other when they’re in need ofemergency care – an attentive, safe and calm experience from the medicalprofessionals and environment which surrounds them.
Thelong waits, loud noises and hectic atmosphere of hospital emergency rooms thatoften leave seniors feeling frustrated, confused and rushed now are reduced at WestSuburban’s ER – which opened the first Senior Emergency Department in the Chicago area this fall,designed to meet the special needs of older patients. West Suburban’s SeniorEmergency Department is part of a nationwide trend. Similar senior-focusedemergency departments have been opening across the country since 2008.
“Thisis a project that brings an added level of service to seniors who come to usfor care,” says William A. Brown, FACHE, Chief Executive Officer of WestSuburban Medical Center and Westlake Hospital. “The Senior Emergency Departmenthelps us to make senior patients more comfortable when they come to us foremergency care and helps us to work with patients to stay healthy beyond theirhospital visit.”
Accordingto Reuters, the last 20 years has seen a 35 percent increase in hospital visitsamong people in the 65 to 74 age range. A large number of West Suburban’semergency department adult patients are 65 years or older, and as the babyboomer population ages, Dr. Adrian expects that number to quickly grow over thenext decade to the Center for Disease Control’s national average of 25 percent.
“Werecognized an opportunity to provide even better care for our geriatricpatients,” said Renee “Kip” Adrian, M.D., medical director of WestSuburban’s Senior Emergency Department. “Our senior-centric focus fills a needand captures the spirit of our multidisciplinary approach to the coordinationof care.”
Atthe center of West Suburban’s specialized senior care is a geriatric socialworker – central to the Senior ED’s efforts to make older patients feelcomfortable and help coordinate their care both in the Emergency Room and afterthey leave the hospital. “I’m one of the first people to greet the patient,”explained Alison Haus, geriatric social worker at West Suburban. “I provide assessmentsfor social risk factors that might have contributed to their ED visit, and Itry to keep them as comfortable as possible in between medical attention.” Comfortcan come through accommodating the patient with a glass of water to sooth a drythroat or keeping them informed during the treatment process.
“Manyseniors are faced with barriers to care,” Dr. Adrian added. “As physicians, wecan address the acute needs, but many of these patients have psycho/socialbarriers. So the value of our social worker is to communicate with the patientand area service agencies to carry out treatment plans once the seniors leavethe hospital.”
Allphysicians and nurses in WestSuburban MedicalCenter’s EmergencyDepartment also have dedicated geriatric training and certification. Theemergency room follows a Split-Flow model of care, which dramatically cuts wait times in the ER. Forall patients, healthcare professionals are available to make sure theyreceive adequate attention before being fully assessed and treated.
Complementingthe human touch is a number of special features designed to relieve anxiety andstress throughout the emergency process for senior citizens:
Comfortable seating. The Senior ED differencestarts in the waiting room where comfortable seating is provided, unlike thehard plastic chairs available elsewhere, which are often unpleasant for seniorssuffering with arthritis and other age-related ailments.
Visual aids. Magnifying glassesare available to ease the discernment of written communication between medicalprofessionals and patients so all necessary information is exchanged andunderstood. Larger buttons on bedside phones allow patients to effortlessly callfriends and family.
Hearing amplifiers. Talking to admittingnurses and doctors proves difficult for those with hearing loss. Amplifiers cutdown on the distress brought on by not understanding important medicalinformation.
Noise reduction. Loud noises are asharp contrast to the quiet home scene. To deal with these issues, lowsound buzzers are activated in monitoring machines. All 17 beds in the West SuburbanMedical Center’sEmergency Room are private rooms with closing doors to reduce noise, unlikeemergency rooms with curtained bays.
Pressure-relieving mattresses. Thicker bedding iscomfortable and prevents bedsores, one of the most common complications ofhospitalization, which could occur within four hours of laying in bed.
Protocolsare being implemented to help patients manage medications, keep doctor’sappointments, connect with organizations in the community and even receive acall from the social worker within 48 hours of discharged from the hospital forany follow-up care that needs to be addressed.
“Wereally want to keep our patients safe, so all these steps in our process areimportant, especially the follow-up service,” Dr. Adrian said. “We see thisspecial ER care as a springboard to all of our geriatric-focused services tokeep seniors living as actively, independently and healthy as possible.”
Dr. Adrian plans to track readmission rates for patientsover age 65 to the emergency department as a measure of providing effectivecare. Patient satisfaction scores also will be a key indicator of thissenior-focused effort.
“Nomatter what health issue brings them into the ER, our senior patients oftenhave other medical problems that make hospital visits difficult,” says MarySchraufnagel, M.D., medical director of geriatric services at West Suburban. “Isend my senior patients to the Senior ED because I know the staff are trainedspecifically to handle such complications.”
Beyondthe Emergency Room, West Suburban offers a dedicated senior wellness programtoo, which is free to patients ages 60 and over. Members of the West SuburbanSenior Centerhave access to a VIP lounge when on campus for outpatient treatment. In thelounge, patients can sip free coffee, relax in specially designed chairs, andrequest assistance in making appointments. Patients may also use the lounge fora quiet space to escape the noise of the hospital. The senior program alsoprovides transportation to appointments, free education classes, freescreenings, exercise classes, and support groups.