The ER is becoming a better place for the elderly

OK, that headline didn’t come out right. But I can’t think of any other way to put it: Emergency rooms are keeping up with the advanced care standards for an aging population. Senior advocates, it’s time to get excited.

The Detroit News reported earlier this week that hospitals in Southeast Michigan are designing ERs to specifically handle the needs of elderly patients. Smaller than traditional emergency rooms, these specialized units house just a handful of beds and include “everything from padded mattresses and non-glare flooring to a consultation with a senior ER social worker,” the newspaper reported. Most importantly, the care will be geriatric-focused.

The idea is to cut down significantly on readmissions. Because of health reform, hospitals will be penalized starting next year through Medicare reimbursement if Medicare patients are readmitted within 30 days of discharge.

In this video you’ll hear Bill Thomas talk about a seniors emergency center.

Several Michigan hospitals are designing or outfitting spaces to handle seniors, including the Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, which will have eight of these emergency rooms open in the southeast portion of the state by the end of 2010—and they’re well needed. According to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, the area’s elderly population is expected to jump from 567,000 in 2000 to nearly 1.2 million by 2035.

Does this sound familiar?

It does to me, and I’m not simply talking about the incoming deluge of seniors. At the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging Annual Meeting last year in Chicago, I sat through an educational session on seniors emergency care held by Bill Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative and professor at the Erickson School of Aging Studies. It was during this session where I heard about Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, which opened the nation’s first senior emergency room in 2008. As The Detroit News reported, it was Holy Cross that led the way for hospitals in Michigan and others across the nation to update their facilities.

It’s appropriate that, with AAHSA’s next annual meeting beginning next week, these ERs are fast gaining in popularity. If you see Bill at the show, be sure to tell him “Nice work.”

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