The typical hospital emergency room can be a chaotic place. Trauma victims, people suffering from drug overdoses, families bringing in sick kids, and a host of others facing various medical crises are all being served – eventually – by a harried staff of doctors, nurses and orderlies doing their best to keep people moving through the ER. Even a healthy person can find the atmosphere highly stressful. But for a frail senior, the emergency room can feel overwhelming, confusing and even dangerous.
Geriatric Emergency Rooms Create a Healthier Environment for Seniors
Because we feel so strongly here at AgingOptions that seniors are often poorly served by the medical system, we were drawn to this article that appeared earlier this year on the NextAvenue website. “Geriatric ERs Provide Better Care for Older Patients,” said the title, describing what the article called “a more suitable environment” for older patients, one where an age-appropriate atmosphere and proper risk assessments are making the difference between a negative outcome for the patient and a positive one. While there are presently only a handful of hospital ER’s certified as age-friendly by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP), nearly 100 have started the accreditation process, says the NextAvenue article. (So far as we could tell, none of the 23 ACEP-certified geriatric ER’s is in the Pacific Northwest where AgingOptions is located.)
The program began in 2009 at St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in Paterson, New Jersey, which became the first age-accredited emergency room in the nation. But the reason for the launch of the geriatric ER was very personal: the program was initiated by a complaint from the 70-year-old mother of St. Joseph’s head of emergency medicine, Dr. Mark Rosenberg. “Suffering from frail health in her 70s, Dr. Mark Rosenberg’s mother had to make repeated trips to the emergency room of a South Florida hospital,” NextAvenue reports. “It was loud and chaotic, and seeing trauma victims and people with drug overdoses added to her distress.” Dr. Rosenberg describes what happened next. “One day she got so upset she left the emergency department against medical advice because she was so afraid to be there,” he told NextAvenue. “She called me up and said, ‘You need to build an emergency department for people like me.’”
Geriatric Emergency Rooms: Four Common Features
Inspired by his mother’s suggestion, Rosenberg acted quickly. “He got together with his mother, her sisters and her bridge partners to discuss what the ideal ER for older and frail individuals would look like,” NextAvenue says. “Using their advice, St. Joseph’s University Medical Center in 2009 opened the nation’s first geriatric emergency department. Since then, the concept of ERs designed with older patients in mind has spread across the country.”
The article lists four features that set a geriatric emergency room apart from its more chaotic and noisy peers. These include:
- Properly Trained Staff: An accredited geriatric ER is staffed with nurses and doctors who have been carefully trained to work with older adults.
- Age-friendly Design Elements: These can include comfort features like thicker mattresses, dimmed lights and reduced noise, as well as safety items such as non-skid floors.
- A Thorough Risk Assessment: Staff at a geriatric ER are trained to ask older adults a different set of questions in order to identify factors that could make health problems worse. (We’ll review these below.)
- Community Resources: Geriatric ER staff members are able to connect patients with community resources they need to stay healthy.
Geriatric Emergency Rooms Focus on Safe Return Home
According to NextAvenue, studies of emergency room admissions showed that two-thirds of older patients were eventually sent home, not admitted to the hospital where quality care could be assured. Armed with that information, in order to make certain patients can return home safely, geriatric ER doctors and nurses ask older patients a carefully-designed set of questions. One question, for example, involves prescriptions: “Do you take more than three different medications every day?” (If so, a pharmacist will often be asked to review the list to look for dangerous drug interactions.) Another common inquiry might be, “Before the illness or injury that brought you here, did you need someone to help you on a regular basis?” (If appropriate, the ER staff can then arrange for a home health aide to visit, or can refer a patient to physical therapy.)
We visited the website of the American College of Emergency Physicians for a more in-depth look at the geriatric ER program. We were also looking for a searchable database to see where these state-of-the-art certified facilities are located, but instead all we saw was a scrolling list of certified hospitals. Hopefully as the program expands patients will find it easier to find and choose certified geriatric emergency rooms in their communities.
If you have a medical emergency, it’s important that the emergency room is there for you – but how much better would it be to stay healthy and avoid the medical crisis altogether? As we always do, for all matters relating to your health, we advise you to place yourself in the hands of a board-certified geriatrician, a health care professional who understands the special needs of senior adults. The right health care professional can get you on the proper course to better health and give you the best, most appropriate advice. Contact AgingOptions and let us provide you with a referral to a geriatrician near you.
Avoid “Retirement Emergencies” with Careful Planning
Speaking of staying on the right course, how is your “retirement voyage”? Are you on track or are you heading for rocky shoals? If you’re ready to take charge of your retirement preparation, the professional team at AgingOptions is ready to help. When you experience our unique and comprehensive approach to retirement planning, which we call LifePlanning, you’ll appreciate just how powerful it is, because with LifePlanning all the essential elements of retirement work together: your finances, your housing choices, your medical coverage, your legal protection, and your family communication. The absolute key to enjoying a secure and fruitful retirement is a good, solid plan, and that means an AgingOptions LifePlan.
We invite you to come join Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar where he can tell you more and answer your questions, without any obligation. Invest just a few hours and your eyes will be opened to a new way of thinking about your retirement. For dates, times and locations of upcoming seminars, visit our Live Events page and reserve your place online for the event of your choice. Don’t settle for an unhealthy, inadequate retirement plan! Take control of your future with an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)