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Managing the Geriatric Boom

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, November 14, 2011
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This article appears in the November 2011 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

A booming population of geriatric patients is expected to continue to fill hospital beds for years to come, stressing the healthcare system yet guaranteeing business, in a quilt of paradox.

As hospitals face an increasing patient population, they are working not only to initiate programs for greater income, but also to try to reduce costs in terms of length of stays. But they also try to improve care for patients over 65 who are often beset with chronic conditions that generally require more complex care.

“The geriatric product line is essential to the health system,” says Barbara Alexis Looby, MSWAC, LSW, administrative director of senior health services for Crozer-Keystone Health System, a four-hospital system near Philadelphia in Delaware County, PA. Noting that more than 45% of patients in acute settings are over 65, she says, “Hospitals who regard senior services as being essential in their care delivery system would want to develop programs to meet the needs of that population.”

Through specialized nursing programs and focusing on specific diseases, healthcare organizations are implementing senior-based programs to improve patient access and reduce potentially negative fiscal impacts on the healthcare systems. Those models include use of the geriatric resource nurse, specialist nurses who are assigned to the bedside, as well as the Acute Care for the Elderly program, known as ACE, which is often a special unit for elderly patients with chronic conditions. 

Success key No. 1: Geriatric fracture center

In the late 1990s, leaders at the now 236-bed Highland Hospital in Rochester, NY, decided that to continue thriving in a competitive market it would have to improve and expand its geriatric programs, preparing for the wave of baby boomers. It developed an ACE program and also a strong relationship with local nursing homes to coordinate care and improve ROI, says Daniel Mendelson, MD, director of the program.

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