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The Takeaway: Hospitals Open Seniors-Only Emergency Rooms

Emergency Rooms of Their Own: A growing number of American hospitals have been debuting emergency rooms designed specifically for older adults, generally those 65 and up. Special accommodations include things like nonskid floors, rails along the walls, extra heating units, thicker mattresses to reduce bedsores and artificial skylights intended to combat "sundowning."

According to the New York Times, patients over 65 account for 15-20 percent of emergency room visits, and that number is only expected to grow as boomers age. With hospital Medicare reimbursements increasingly being tied to patient satisfaction and readmission rates, hospitals have financial as well as medical incentives for doing so.

One of the first of these seniors-only emergency rooms (called geriatric emergency departments, or 'geri-eds,' by hospitals) was opened by Holy Cross Hospital, in Silver Spring, Md., in 2008. The hospital's parent organization, Trinity Health System, has since opened 12 such emergency rooms, primarily in the Midwest, and plans to open several more this summer.

Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan-one of the top geriatric care hospitals in the country- recently opened a geriatric emergency department, modeled after one at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in New Jersey.  Mark Rosenberg, chairman of emergency medicine at St. Joseph's, said doctors and nurses were initially resistant to the idea but came around.

They thought it was a bedpan unit, focused on nursing home patients," Dr. Rosenberg said. "When they finally realized this was the unit that gave better health care to their parents and grandparents, they jumped onboard."

At Mount Sinai, emergency patients are sent to the geriatric department if they are over 65, know their name, were able to walk before the day of the hospital visit and are ranked 3, 4 or 5 on a standard emergency severity index (with 1 being the sickest). Someone with a broken hip would probably qualify, but someone with an acute heart attack would most likely have to be stabilized in the regular emergency room first, Dr. Kevin M. Baumlin, the hospital's chairman of emergency medicine, told the Times.

Tuesday Quick Hits

  • And nearly two out of three adults in the U.S. will content with significant hearing loss by age 70.  So can boomers find a way to "make hearing aids cool?,"  writer Stefanie Weiss asks.

Photo: Ryan McVay/Getty Images

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