Geriatric ERs: Specialized care to better treat elderly patients

Emergency room sign on a hospital building

Geriatric emergency rooms are on the rise as hospitals look for more effective ways to treat the growing elderly population.

There are approximately100 of these specialized treatment centers across the country and hospitals in California, North Carolina, Connecticut and Texas intend to open others, according to a Kaiser Health News report via CNN. Many of the centers were built to handle the influx of aging patients with complex conditions who seek care in traditional ERs. 

“Hospitals that before didn't think there was any need for this are saying, 'Can you help us create a geriatric ED,'" Ula Hwang, associate professor in the emergency medicine and geriatrics departments at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told KHN.

Staff who work at the geriatric ERs are trained specifically to diagnose and care for elderly patients, treat their current health problems as well as prevent common problems like confusion and over-medication, the article notes. And clinicians also are trained to assess fall risk, dementia, malnutrition and other disorders common in elderly patients, including abuse and neglect.

Unlike traditional ERs, the geriatric facilities are designed with the elderly patient in mind and often feature softer lighting, easy-to-read clocks and non-slip floors. The KHN piece notes that at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, the exam rooms have thicker mattresses to reduce bed sores, raised toilet seats and curtains that reduce noise.

Before Mount Sinai opened the facility in 2012, busy ER doctors would often admit the elderly patients so that hospital staff could conduct a complete workup. But the team at the geriatric facility can now screen, diagnose and treat the patients, without automatically admitting them to the hospital.

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