Saint Marys debuts new geriatrics unit

March 21, 2011
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At the end of March, Saint Mary’s Health Care plans to unveil a 32-bed unit devoted to the care of older patients.

The recently remodeled third floor of the Lacks Cancer Center offers elder-friendly features, such as no-skid flat floors, no-glare surfaces, specialized lighting, around-the-room handrails and a chair with heat and massage.

Geriatrics specialist Dr. James Passinault of Saint Mary’s Advantage Health Network said that despite the unit’s location in the cancer center, elderly cancer patients won’t be treated there. Neither will patients admitted for orthopedic procedures or surgery or stroke.

The unit is meant for patients who are age 65 and older, admitted for non-surgical medical needs, such as pneumonia, sepsis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute renal failure and altered mental status, Passinault said, particularly those who also need aid with the tasks of daily living.

“There are people who have more advanced functional needs, people that need help getting done simple things of their daily lives, like bathing or eating or toileting,” said Passinault, who is medical director of the Senior Adult Unit. “And so people whose functional status needs assistance then become more of our ‘geriatrics’ patients that need a different way to look at their inpatient hospital care.”

Clinical Service Director Julie Lundvick, a nurse, said that 63 nurses are being trained in geriatrics, 32 have completed the 20-hour course and seven are now certified. She said the hospital hopes to have geriatrics-trained nurses throughout the hospital to better serve elders who are not funneled to the new unit, slated to open March 28.

It’s a timely move, as the U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate that the number of elderly people in Kent County and the state of Michigan is only going to grow. The bureau’s American Community Survey indicates that people age 65 and older make up 10.6 percent of Kent County’s population, compared to 10.4 percent in 2000. While the proportion is just inching forward, the survey’s numbers show that the number of Kent County’s 65-plus population increased by 6.6 percent over the past decade: from 59,625 in 2000 to 63,562 as of 2009.

The fastest growing segment of elders is those age 85 and over, which surged by 20.9 percent to 9,413 in Kent County.

In addition, the first of the 76 million members of the baby boomer generation born between 1946 and 1964 are turning 65 this year. They enter hospitals with different expectations of care and amenities than previous generations, Lundvick said.

Saint Mary’s and other hospitals owned by parent company Trinity Health have instituted changes in their emergency rooms aimed at better serving elder patients, such as thick mattresses, adjustable lighting, private rooms and blankets. Trinity Health’s Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., opened the first senior emergency room in the nation in 2008.

Saint Mary’s opened a new emergency department in the Hauenstein Center in 2009.

Advantage Health has nine geriatricians, two of them working as specialized hospitalists at Saint Mary’s.

In August, Saint Mary’s received a NICHE designation: Nurses Improving Care for Health-system Elders. The hospital underwent a review, called Geriatric Institutional Assessment Profile, that analyzed the needs of senior citizens and identified gaps in care.

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