West Suburban Medical Center wants a growing number of geriatric patients in the Chicago area to have an experience like none other when they’re in need of emergency care – an attentive, safe and calm experience from the medical professionals and environment which surrounds them.

The long waits, loud noises and hectic atmosphere of hospital emergency rooms that often leave seniors feeling frustrated, confused and rushed now are reduced at West Suburban’s ER – which opened the first Senior Emergency Department in the Chicago area this fall, designed to meet the special needs of older patients. West Suburban’s Senior Emergency Department is part of a nationwide trend. Similar senior-focused emergency departments have been opening across the country since 2008.

“This is a project that brings an added level of service to seniors who come to us for care,” says William A. Brown, FACHE, Chief Executive Officer of West Suburban Medical Center and Westlake Hospital. “The Senior Emergency Department helps us to make senior patients more comfortable when they come to us for emergency care and helps us to work with patients to stay healthy beyond their hospital visit.”

According to Reuters, the last 20 years has seen a 35 percent increase in hospital visits among people in the 65 to 74 age range. A large number of West Suburban’s emergency department adult patients are 65 years or older, and as the baby boomer population ages, Dr. Adrian expects that number to quickly grow over the next decade to the Center for Disease Control’s national average of 25 percent.

“We recognized an opportunity to provide even better care for our geriatric patients,” said Renee “Kip” Adrian, M.D., medical director of West Suburban’s Senior Emergency Department. “Our senior-centric focus fills a need and captures the spirit of our multidisciplinary approach to the coordination of care.”

At the center of West Suburban’s specialized senior care is a geriatric social worker – central to the Senior ED’s efforts to make older patients feel comfortable and help coordinate their care both in the Emergency Room and after they leave the hospital.

“I’m one of the first people to greet the patient,” explained Alison Haus, geriatric social worker at West Suburban. “I provide assessments for social risk factors that might have contributed to their ED visit, and I try to keep them as comfortable as possible in between medical attention.” Comfort can come through accommodating the patient with a glass of water to sooth a dry throat or keeping them informed during the treatment process.

“Many seniors are faced with barriers to care,” Dr. Adrian added. “As physicians, we can address the acute needs, but many of these patients have psycho/social barriers. So the value of our social worker is to communicate with the patient and area service agencies to carry out treatment plans once the seniors leave the hospital.”

All physicians and nurses in West Suburban Medical Center’s Emergency Department also have dedicated geriatric training and certification. The emergency room follows a Split-Flow model of care, which dramatically cuts wait times in the ER. For all patients, healthcare professionals are available to make sure they receive adequate attention before being fully assessed and treated.

Complementing the human touch is a number of special features designed to relieve anxiety and stress throughout the emergency process for senior citizens:

  • Comfortable seating. The Senior ED difference starts in the waiting room where comfortable seating is provided, unlike the hard plastic chairs available elsewhere, which are often unpleasant for seniors suffering with arthritis and other age-related ailments.
  • Visual aids. Magnifying glasses are available to ease the discernment of written communication between medical professionals and patients so all necessary information is exchanged and understood. Larger buttons on bedside phones allow patients to effortlessly call friends and family.
  • Hearing amplifiers. Talking to admitting nurses and doctors proves difficult for those with hearing loss. Amplifiers cut down on the distress brought on by not understanding important medical information.
  • Noise reduction. Loud noises are a sharp contrast to the quiet home scene. To deal with these issues, low sound buzzers are activated in monitoring machines. All 17 beds in the West Suburban Medical Center’s Emergency Room are private rooms with closing doors to reduce noise, unlike emergency rooms with curtained bays.
  • Pressure-relieving mattresses. Thicker bedding is comfortable and prevents bedsores, one of the most common complications of hospitalization, which could occur within four hours of laying in bed.

Protocols are being implemented to help patients manage medications, keep doctor’s appointments, connect with organizations in the community and even receive a call from the social worker within 48 hours of discharged from the hospital for any follow-up care that needs to be addressed.

“We really want to keep our patients safe, so all these steps in our process are important, especially the follow-up service,” Dr. Adrian said. “We see this special ER care as a springboard to all of our geriatric-focused services to keep seniors living as actively, independently and healthy as possible.”

Dr. Adrian plans to track readmission rates for patients over age 65 to the emergency department as a measure of providing effective care. Patient satisfaction scores also will be a key indicator of this senior-focused effort.

“No matter what health issue brings them into the ER, our senior patients often have other medical problems that make hospital visits difficult,” says Mary Schraufnagel, M.D., medical director of geriatric services at West Suburban. “I send my senior patients to the Senior ED because I know the staff are trained specifically to handle such complications.”

Beyond the Emergency Room, West Suburban offers a dedicated senior wellness program too, which is free to patients ages 60 and over. Members of the West Suburban Senior Center have access to a VIP lounge when on campus for outpatient treatment. In the lounge, patients can sip free coffee, relax in specially designed chairs, and request assistance in making appointments. Patients may also use the lounge for a quiet space to escape the noise of the hospital. The senior program also provides transportation to appointments, free education classes, free screenings, exercise classes, and support groups.