Hospitals offer special services for seniors; one opens a senior ER
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by James Baca/DCR
As soon as Carol Cooper was wheeled into the emergency room on a stretcher at Exempla Lutheran Medical Center, nurses were at the door greeting her.
During her one-hour stay at the hospital while doctors examined the reason for her chest pains, 66-year-old Cooper discovered this emergency room was unlike any other she had seen.
“It was very pleasant surroundings,” Cooper said. “It was calming and quiet. I was the first one there, but even after more patients, it was quieter I thought than the normal ER.”
Cooper discovered she was the first patient to receive treatment in Exempla Lutheran’s new emergency room dedicated to seniors.
The eight-bed ER, opened in late October, aims to reduce chaos and provide better care for the senior population that is growing by leaps and bounds, said Jan Dionne, program manager and clinic nurse specialist at Exempla Lutheran.
Prior to opening the emergency room, 21 percent of their patients coming in for treatment every year were more than 65 years old, she said. In its first four weeks of operation, the ER for seniors saw 550 patients.
“Right there we knew there was a need,” Dionne said. “We want to try to make this whole environment a pleasant experience as much as we can.”
Dimmed lighting, non-slip floors, thicker mattresses and a quieter environment are some of the features of the senior ER.
It’s the state’s first hospital to dedicate space for seniors, who are more susceptible to health risks including dementia, a serious loss of cognitive ability. The ER addresses those risks by creating an atmosphere that’s less chaotic and less likely to aggravate dementia, Dionne said.
Other hospitals have taken steps to address the needs of the rising number of senior citizens.
This year Centura Health, Colorado’s largest hospital and health care network, is taking steps to spread its Geriatric Trauma Protocol initiated at St. Anthony Hospital and Medical Center in 2008, said Pamela Bourg, director of the trauma program at St. Anthony.
ER staff will go through the protocol with every senior citizen that includes a series of checks on their vital signs and monitoring by a traumatic surgeon, she said.
“Before,” Bourg said, “seniors fell into the normal flow of the trauma patient population that came in. I think what happened is we noticed that they have unique needs.”
Photo by James Baca/DCR
Prior to instituting the protocol in 2008, the average length of stay for senior citizens at the hospital was about five days. That has been reduced by 10 percent to a four-day stay, she said.
“Our emergency and trauma staff try to rapidly identify … senior citizens and bump them up in the queue to get them help,” Bourg said.
Both hospitals also enacted approaches to help senior citizens prevent serious injury and better their health.
St. Anthony Hospital will help seniors modify their homes to avoid injury and Lutheran Exempla has a full-time case manager to see that seniors are returning to a home, assisted-living community or other facility that meets their needs.
“What we’re doing really has to do with their overall care,” Bourg said.
Specialized treatment and care for seniors will spread to hospitals across the state and nation, Dionne said.
For Cooper, her treatment at Exempla Lutheran was the best experience she’s had in an ER.
“I think seniors can get much more apprehensive over health problems,” Cooper said. “It was a nice positive experience even though I didn’t go there for the best reason.”