Michigan Hospitals Open Senior Emergency Departments

Doug Desjardins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 16, 2011

With the baby boomer generation aging, the healthcare industry is bracing for a massive increase in elder care and some hospitals are preparing for that influx with emergency departments designed for seniors. 

In Michigan, eight hospitals owned by Trinity Health System now have senior emergency departments. The first opened last summer and seven others rapidly followed.

"We opened the first senior emergency department in July 2010 and by January had them in eight hospitals," said Michele Szczypka, regional chief marketing officer for the St. Joseph Mercy network of hospitals. "And we've had a great response from patients and caregivers and have seen a 10.2% increase in the number of senior patients we serve since they've opened."

The departments are equipped with safety rails that help seniors get around and reduce the risk of falls. The beds have mattresses with pressure-reducing foam to make them more comfortable and large-print signage and over-sized clocks make it easier for seniors with vision problems. Seniors entering the regular emergency departments are given the option of being treated in the senior EDs.

Szczypka said nurses and doctors who staff the departments have all been trained in geriatric care and routinely screen patients for cognitive problems. "We had one patient who was repeatedly coming to our ER to be treated for complications from diabetes," said Szczypka. "And in our senior ED, we discovered it was matter of the patient not properly treating their diabetes. So the departments look for underlying conditions rather than just treat the problem."

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