The New York Times New Old Age blog visits one of the nation’s newest senior-specific emergency departments at St. Joseph Mercy in Ann Arbor, Mich:
When Harold Richards, 81, arrived at the hospital emergency room in Ann Arbor, Mich., he expected a long wait. After all, he’d been through the emergency room drill before.
But this time was different. Mr. Richards was taken to one of the nation’s few senior emergency rooms, a new wing specially designated for older adults at St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor. Handrails line each wall, and a nonskid floor resembling hardwood reduces the risk of falls. Every bed has a thicker, pressure-reducing mattress and can be set to sound an alarm if a patient prone to wandering gets up. Room lighting is softer, and the clocks are larger. Each room comes furnished with a walker; patients can request reading glasses or hearing devices.
Mr. Richards was taken back by the differences: “Priorities are a little different, I guess.”
Hospitals nationwide are trying to redefine the E.R. experience for the elderly by building facilities dedicated solely to their needs. St. Joseph Mercy’s parent company, Trinity Health System, opened the nation’s first senior E.R. at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., in 2008 and plans to put one in 19 other hospitals by 2013. Senior E.R.’s, also called geriatric emergency departments, also have opened in Texas, New Jersey, Missouri and Kansas. By year’s end, Mount Sinai Medical Center plans to open Manhattan’s first such facility.
Full disclosure — ChangingAging is a big fan of the senior ED movement for good reason: Dr. Bill Thomas helped launch it:
The drive to build senior E.R.’s is motivated in part by hospitals’ desire to find an edge in the increasingly competitive health care marketplace.
“When you talk about marketing hospitals, there’s a saying that kind of everybody knows, which is, ‘The emergency room is your hospital’s front door,’ ” said Dr. Bill Thomas, a geriatrician who helped open the first senior emergency room in the country. “Among the most vocal users of that front door, and the people who sometimes have the strongest opinions of that front door, are elders.”