woman hospital bed webEven the savviest health care consumer can find navigating an unplanned hospital visit daunting. This is even more true when the patient involved has some level of age-related impairment such as vision, hearing or mental decline. Recognizing that the typical emergency department does not address the particular needs of older adults, some hospitals have developed special programs.


One such example locally is St. Luke’s University Hospital – Bethlehem, which offers a program designed to meet the needs of older emergency department patients. Called the Senior Emergency Room, it was designed by a team of physicians, nurses, social workers and other health care professionals including Janice Concilio, vice president of patient care.

Recently, Janice, a nurse, found herself in the role of the daughter of a patient receiving treatment at the Senior Emergency Room. At age 90, her father fell and was rushed to the hospital via ambulance. Suddenly finding yourself dealing with an unexpected threat to your love one’s health and well-being is distressing, Janice said. The stress of the situation makes it difficult to think and express yourself as well as you would normally.

 “Fortunately, from the moment my father arrived my parents were comforted by the staff, who carefully explained what was happening and listened to what he wanted,” she said. “My father didn’t want to be admitted so the staff worked with us to develop a plan to get him home safely as soon as was possible. They didn’t over-test. They only did what was necessary to the visit, to the circumstance and to assure his safety.”

Every staff member of the St. Luke’s Senior Emergency Room receives training in geriatrics, which includes sensitivity training, so whether the patient arrives in the trauma bay with a life-threatening injury or in the waiting room with a stomachache, they are cared for by a staff member sensitive to their needs.

In addition, the Senior Emergency Room is outfitted with special features including:

  • Environmentally friendly, subdued lighting
  • Walls and anti-slip flooring with colors and patterns to enhance depth perception. The walls are painted a neutral gold color, which studies have shown to have a calming effect
  • Guardrails to assist with balance
  • Lower stretchers
  • Volunteer-manned carts stocked with comfort items for seniors

Janice said she was pleased to see that the unit operates according to plan. Due to its success in terms of patient and family satisfaction, St. Luke’s intends to duplicate the Senior Emergency Room at other hospitals within its network.  “We have a place that is focusing on the care of the senior, and develop their plan to support their wishes,” she said. “We are committed to this initiative and will continue to look at opportunities to assure optimal care and safety for our seniors and all our patients.

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