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San Diego to Get First Geriatric ER

UC San Diego Health is building a new ER for the over-65 set


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Shelley Lyford and Patty Maysent

When it comes to health care, one size does not fit all. San Diego’s senior population, the fastest-growing demographic in our region, will soon have its own state-of-the-art senior emergency care unit at UC San Diego Health La Jolla.

Bolstered by $11.8 million in construction and research funding from the senior-focused Gary and Mary West Foundation, UCSD will open an 8,500-square-foot geriatric ER at its La Jolla campus in 2018—the first senior emergency department in the San Diego region, and the first of its kind in California.

“Seniors do have unique needs, just as a pediatric population has its unique needs,” says Shelley Lyford, president and CEO of the foundation and its research arm, the Gary and Mary West Health Institute.

San Diego’s advancing Baby Boomer generation is driving demand for age-appropriate health care. People age 65 and up represent about 24 percent of UCSD Health’s total emergency department visits. And the number of people over age 65 in San Diego County is expected to double by the year 2030, according to statistics from the county’s Health and Human Services Agency. Plus, we’re living longer. The fastest-growing age group among seniors? People 85 and older.

The new ER means UCSD Health can focus on the specific clinical needs of seniors, while researching best practices and training a senior-savvy workforce.

Lyford says the facility’s design will also consider little features that could make a big difference in the patient experience: nonskid floors, softer lighting, less background noise, larger print on signage, mattresses that reduce the risk of bedsores, and wider walkways so patients and their caregivers can move around more easily.

UCSD Health CEO Patty Maysent says her geriatricians will have the resources to look at the clinical reasons a senior is admitted to the ER, but also other factors in their lives—like their home environment and nutrition, and broader health concerns like dementia—that might lead to repeat ER visits and even hospitalizations.

“Coming into an ER can be a terrifying experience. We’re looking at how we can improve that experience while making sure the rest of their needs are taken care of,” Maysent says. By creating this new senior emergency care unit from scratch, “We have the opportunity to do something really unique and innovative.”

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