Seniors-Only Emergency Rooms On The Rise

By Emily Murray

No one likes going to the emergency room. Think about your last trip there, whether it was for you or a loved one you most likely experience a long wait, grouchy people, general chaos, germ spreading…okay you get the idea, it was likely not a pleasant experience to say the least. One of the newest trends in patient care however is the seniors-only ER where things are less hectic and exams are catered to the needs of America’s aging population.

This comes at a reassuring time for those of the aging baby boomer generation who have ever evolving medical needs. As explained in a recent Huffington Post article, “seniors already make 17 million ER visits a year, and 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older by 2030.”

Another relevant point to consider is how the average ER is equipped and the normal medical emergencies that may be seen in an average night. These may range from an infant with a fever to a stabbing or a car accident. For seniors, more common emergencies include things like stroke, heart attack, breathing difficulties and dementia/mental confusion. Naturally amidst so much chaos, the most  seemingly life threatening cases will be seen first, but seniors experiencing symptoms like dizziness or confusion may have to wait longer even though these may often be the signs of an underlying medical emergency that is equally as life threatening.

With all this considered, the new trend of senior emergency rooms appears to be a very good fit with the American population. As mentioned in the same article, it has  been deemed effective as implemented in St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson, N.J.  where a 14-bed center has been in operation for two years. In fact, the emergency medicine chairman of the hospital reported that since the center’s opening there has been a decrease in the amount of patients returning after the initial visit since the center also makes next day follow up calls to check on patients.

A second hospital mentioned in the article with a similar program at Trinity’s St. Mary Hospital in Michigan also provides additional comforts for their senior patients including using doors instead of curtains, thicker mattresses and even reclining chairs for those who would be more comfortable sitting up. Other more practical safety precautions have also been implemented like special “no-slip” flooring and even a worker on site to discuss options like “Meal on Wheels” if the patient is living alone.

Other seemingly small changes are also made that actually make a world of difference for those who are older. Special care instructions and hospital documents are typed in large easy-to-read print and nurses even carry around amplifiers called “pocket talkers” that can be plugged into headphones for patients who are hard of hearing so nurses don’t need to yell for the patient to understand them.

While this is a fairly new concept, it continues to be implemented in many cities and while it’s easy to see all the benefits of offering such a thorough service, many hospitals simply lack the funding to essentially run and staff 2 separate emergency rooms. For those that do have the luxury, senior-only emergency rooms seem to be one aspect of health care delivery that is whole-heartedly embraced.