An emergency room can be a hectic place: noisy, crowded and awash in harsh light. It can be overwhelming, especially for seniors who may come through its doors fragile, confused and requiring a higher level of care. UC San Diego Health has opened a state-of-the-art unit specialized in treating seniors requiring emergency health care. The Gary and Mary West Emergency Department at UC San Diego Health in La Jolla is the first in California to treat qualifying patients over the age of 65 in a dedicated space customized for geriatric emergency care.
“Although we have been delivering specialized senior emergency care for more than two years, the new physical space allows older adults to be cared for in an environment that better meets their needs than a traditional emergency room setting,” said Vaishal Tolia, MD, MPH, medical director of the Emergency Department at UC San Diego Health and director of the Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Care Unit (SECU). “We are very excited to provide this unprecedented service to our senior patients and their caregivers.”
The accredited geriatric emergency department features architectural design elements for older patients, such as carefully calibrated lighting and improved acoustics, safety and comfort. The customized waiting room boasts chairs with high backs and sturdy arms and legs to assist seniors in sitting and standing. The 11 new SECU patient rooms are equipped with sound-absorbing walls and ceilings to reduce ambient noise; a variable lighting system that orients patients to the actual time of day; and contrasting colors between walls and floors and between toilet and chair seats and floors improve mobility and reduce fall risk.
“Senior patients face common complications, such as being at a high risk for falls and cognitive and memory problems. All patients in the SECU are treated by a team with special training in geriatric medicine, including pharmacists to manage medications and social workers to ensure a smooth transition home upon discharge,” said Ted Chan, MD, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UC San Diego Health. “Our goal with the SECU is to lower hospital admissions and re-admissions in this patient population.”
Other notable features of the SECU include a nursing station visible from all patient rooms and a private lounge to offer caregivers and others with a place to relax when visits last longer than anticipated. The SECU also features original artwork from local San Diego surf artist Aaron Chang.
Patients like Pamela Hall have already benefitted from senior emergency medicine care at UC San Diego Health. She was brought to the Gary and Mary West Emergency Department by paramedics due to a wound that caused her blood pressure to drop to a dangerous level. “I was attended to immediately in a kind and compassionate manner,” said Hall, a mindfulness meditation and yoga teacher. “Staff made sure I understood everything that was happening and the services and treatment I was receiving. They made me feel very comfortable and calm during an overwhelming time.”
The SECU was made possible by an $11.8 million grant from Gary and Mary West. The grant enables research initiatives between UC San Diego Health and the West Health Institute to identify, evaluate and disseminate best practices in geriatric emergency care.
“Gary and Mary West are incredible philanthropists with large and generous hearts for seniors. Their gift to UC San Diego Health paves the way to innovative care in emergency medicine with the opening of the SECU,” said Patty Maysent, CEO, UC San Diego Health. “Our dedicated staff has worked tirelessly over the past few years to make this vision a reality. As we start the New Year, we are grateful for the opportunity to continue providing outstanding care to our community in all of its diversity.”
In May 2018, the Gary and Mary West Emergency Department received a Level 1 Gold accreditation, the highest and most comprehensive level given to a geriatric emergency department by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). It was the first emergency department west of the Mississippi to receive this level of accreditation as part of an effort to improve the quality and standards of emergency care provided to the nation’s elderly patients.
“Mary and I recognized very early on that the emergency department offers a unique opportunity to address the specific health care needs of seniors, providing better care and also reducing unnecessary costs,” said Gary West, co-founder of the Gary and Mary West Foundation and West Health Institute. “We are proud to have helped establish California’s first accredited geriatric emergency department at UC San Diego Health, which is revolutionizing care for our rapidly growing population of older adults here and throughout the country.”
The U.S. Census estimates that by 2029 the entire baby boomer demographic group will be 65 or older. More than 21.3 million patients over the age of 65 were treated in emergency rooms in 2015, according to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, up from approximately 16 million in 2001. These numbers are projected to continue to rise.
“Seniors in San Diego now have an emergency department with processes and enhancements to provide a better and more dignified experience during an extremely vulnerable time,” said Shelley Lyford, president and CEO of West Health. “Through our collaboration with UC San Diego Health, we are leading the way to wider adoption of geriatric emergency departments across the nation, ultimately improving outcomes and quality of life for seniors before, during and after a medical crisis.”
“As one ages, they need to feel valued. This new geriatric emergency department is really special and much needed. It will serve a very important role for patients like me,” said Hall.
About UC San Diego Health
UC San Diego Health, the region’s only academic health system, is dedicated to delivering outstanding patient care through commitment to community, groundbreaking research and inspired teaching. For 2018-19, U.S. News and World Report ranked UC San Diego Health among the nation’s best in six adult medical and surgical specialties, including pulmonology, geriatrics, cardiology, cancer, neurology and orthopedics. The 808-bed academic health system includes UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest and Jacobs Medical Center, Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center, Moores Cancer Center, Shiley Eye Institute, Koman Family Outpatient Pavilion and Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute, all in La Jolla, as well as primary care and same-day services at clinics throughout Southern California. For more information, visit health.ucsd.edu
About West Health
Solely funded by philanthropists Gary and Mary West, West Health is a family of nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations, including the Gary and Mary West Foundation and Gary and Mary West Health Institute in San Diego, and the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center in Washington, D.C. West Health is dedicated to lowering health care costs and enabling seniors to successfully age in place with access to high-quality, affordable health and support services that preserve and protect their dignity, quality of life and independence. Learn more at westhealth.org and follow @westhealth.