UC San Diego Health opens California’s first senior ER unit

Emergency rooms – noisy, crowded and awash in harsh light – can be overwhelming for seniors who may be fragile and confused, or require a higher level of care.

UC San Diego Health has opened a unit specialized in treating seniors requiring emergency healthcare. 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 Dr. Vaishal Tolia, medical director of the emergency department at UC San Diego Health and director of the Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Care Unit.

The accredited geriatric emergency department features architectural design elements for older patients, such as carefully calibrated lighting and improved acoustics, safety and comfort, the provider organization stated. The customized waiting room features chairs with high backs and sturdy arms and legs to assist seniors in sitting and standing.

“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.”

Dr. Vaishal Tolia, UC San Diego Health

The 11 new Senior Emergency Care Unit 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 toilets and chair seats and floors to 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,” said Dr. Ted Chan, chair of the department of emergency medicine at UC San Diego Health. “All patients in the Senior Emergency Care Unit 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.”

The goal with the Senior Emergency Care Unit is to lower hospital admissions and readmissions in this patient population.

Other notable features of the Senior Emergency Care Unit include a nursing station visible from all patient rooms and a private lounge to offer caregivers and others a place to relax when visits last longer than anticipated.

The Senior Emergency Care Unit 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.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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