ER Aims to Serve Older Patients
Serenity In Emergencies
A Silver Spring ER Aims to Serve Older Patients
By Beth Baker
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 27, 2009; Page HE01
When Barbara Rayner, 78, came to the emergency room at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring last month with severe lower back pain, she was expecting a long wait and harried staff. But within minutes she was whisked into a separate area, called the senior emergency center. It is one of the nation’s first ERs designed to serve a population 65 and older.
"It’s a really forward-thinking idea," said Rayner. "I think senior citizens will appreciate it a great deal — and their families."
Staff training in geriatrics and communication as well as a comprehensive approach to care and patient follow-up set the center apart from the typical emergency room. "They’re actually structuring acute emergency services around the needs of the people they’re taking care of, rather than forcing older people to conform to the operations of the hospital," said geriatrician William H. Thomas, a professor of aging studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Erickson School who helped the hospital design the new area.
While patients in the main ER typically share a room crowded with monitors and equipment, separated from one another only by a flimsy curtain, each patient in the new center has an uncluttered cubicle, with a comfortable chair for a family member or visitor. Rayner said she appreciated the extra privacy. She also was grateful for the mattress — twice as thick as other ER beds and specially designed to prevent skin breakdown that leads to bedsores, which can develop rapidly in elderly patients. There are plenty of blankets — kept toasty in a blanket warmer — and pillows.
Holy Cross consulted with the Erickson School on all aspects of the center and drew on experts in lighting and audiology to make the experience as soothing as possible on aging eyes and ears.
Walls are painted a warm gold, with wooden handrails for safe walking. Rather than slick linoleum, the floor is made of faux wood. Each patient has a television with headset, a large-face clock and overhead lighting controlled by a dimmer switch. There are just eight rooms, clustered near a small nurse’s station. During a recent visit, the only disturbance was the squawk of the hospital-wide intercom — and according to Bonnie Mann, director of Holy Cross’s office of seniors, the center will soon switch to wireless paging to eliminate that distraction.
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