Back grey_arrow_rt.gif
For the Elderly, Emergency Rooms of Their Own at NYC Hospital


Yana Paskova for The New York Times

A simulated skylight in the new geriatric emergency room at Mount Sinai Hospital is intended to help patients with end-of-the-day agitation and confusion.

NY Times Published: April 9, 2012
Phyllis Spielberger, a retired hat seller at Bendel's, picked at a plastic dish of beets and corn as her husband, Jason, sat at the foot of her hospital bed, telling her to eat.

Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Pertrilla Henry watching an iPad, which can be used to communicate with nurses.


Although she had been rushed to Manhattan's busy Mount Sinai Hospital by ambulance when her leg gave out, the atmosphere she encountered upon her arrival was eerily calm.

There were no beeping machines or blinking lights or scurrying medical residents. A volunteer circulated among the patients like a flight attendant, making soothing conversation and offering reading glasses, Sudoku puzzles and hearing aids. Above them, an artificial sun shined through a skylight imprinted with a photographic rendering of a robin's-egg-blue sky, puffy clouds and leafy trees.

Ms. Spielberger, who is in her 80s, was even getting into the spirit of the place, despite her unnerving condition. "It's beautiful," she said. "Everything here is wonderful."

Yet this was an emergency room, one specifically designed for the elderly, part of a growing trend of hospitals' trying to cater to the medical needs and sensibilities of aging baby boomers and their parents. Mount Sinai opened its geriatric emergency department, or geri-ed, two months ago, modeling it in part after one at St. Joseph's Regional Medical Center in Paterson, N.J., which opened in 2009.

Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., opened one of the first geriatric emergency departments, which it calls a seniors emergency center, in 2008, and its parent organization, Trinity Health System, runs 12 nationwide, primarily in the Midwest, and plans to open six or seven more by June, a spokeswoman said.

Dr. Mark Rosenberg, chairman of emergency medicine at St. Joseph's, said he had consulted on more than 50 geriatric emergency rooms to be opened across the country, from Princeton, N.J., to California, overcoming initial resistance from doctors and nurses who saw assignments to the units as scut work.

"They thought it was a bedpan unit, focused on nursing home patients," Dr. Rosenberg said. "When they finally realized this was the unit that gave better health care to their parents and grandparents, they jumped onboard."

Hospitals also have strong financial incentives to focus on the elderly. People over 65 account for 15 percent to 20 percent of emergency room visits, hospital officials say, and that number is expected to grow as the population ages.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the health insurance overhaul passed by Congress in 2010, hospitals' Medicare payments will be tied to scores on patient satisfaction surveys and how frequently patients have to be readmitted to the hospital. (The Supreme Court is considering whether to overturn another section of the law, and if it does, whether it would have to throw out the entire law.)

Even in their early stages, patient satisfaction ratings for Mount Sinai's geri-ed are "off the scoreboard," said Dr. Andy Jagoda, the hospital's chairman of emergency medicine.

Patients who are picked up by ambulance can choose which hospital to go to, if circumstances and travel time allow.

At Mount Sinai, all arrivals go through triage in the regular emergency department and are sent to the geriatric department if they are over 65, know their name, were able to walk before the day of the hospital visit and are ranked 3, 4 or 5 on a standard emergency severity index of 1 to 5, with 1 being the sickest. Someone with a broken hip would probably qualify, but someone with an acute heart attack would most likely have to be stabilized in the regular emergency room first, said Dr. Kevin M. Baumlin, the vice chairman of emergency medicine, who founded the geriatric emergency room.

The geriatric E.R. - eight beds and six examining rooms - resembles a clinic more than it does an emergency room: there are nonskid floors, rails along the walls, reclining chairs for patients and thicker mattresses to reduce bedsores. To keep the noise down, the curtain rings and rods around the beds are made of plastic instead of metal.

"One of my pet peeves is the noise that curtains make," Dr. Baumlin said. "You know, that metal clackety-clack sound."

Volunteers interact with patients to keep them alert. The artificial skylight, which turns dark at night, is intended to combat "sundowning" - agitation and confusion at the end of the day. "I have to say I thought it was the hokiest thing I ever heard of, but it turns out it's a big satisfier," Dr. Jagoda said.

Then there is one of Dr. Baumlin's favorite innovations, what he calls the geriPad, an iPad that lets patients have a two-way video conversation with a nurse, or touch the screen to ask for lunch, pain medication or music.

A calmer patient is usually a satisfied one, but advocates of the trend toward geriatric E.R.'s say there are also medical reasons for placing a special focus on the elderly. Being treated in the emergency room is often the beginning of a slide for older patients: within three months of being sent home, up to 27 percent have another emergency, are admitted to the hospital or die, studies show.

Dr. Ula Y. Hwang, a researcher at Mount Sinai who co-wrote a 2007 paper on the concept of the geriatric emergency department, said the classic emergency room focus on speed could lead to mistakes with elderly patients, whose condition is often complicated by their being on many medications, having more than one sickness and being unable to express what is wrong with them clearly.

Dr. Rosenberg, of St. Joseph's, said his hospital had been able to reduce unscheduled return visits to the emergency room to 1 percent of cases, from 20 percent. Patients still return, he said, but they return because the hospital has called them at home, found they are not getting better, and called them back to the hospital before their condition, like pneumonia, becomes a crisis.

Still, the move toward specialized emergency rooms for the elderly has skeptics, who see them as little more than marketing gimmicks.

Dr. Alfred Sacchetti, chief of emergency services at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, N.J., said he thought setting up geriatric emergency rooms, or even pediatric emergency rooms, was a distraction from the goal of giving optimal treatment to all.

Dr. Sacchetti said he had not seen evidence that geriatric emergency rooms provided better outcomes for patients, but to the degree they did improve care - for instance, if the thicker mattresses did cut down on bedsores - then those improvements should be extended to all emergency patients.

"What's the best outcome for the patient?" he said. "I don't miss your diagnosis, I treat you appropriately, I treat you quickly and you have a good outcome. Or, I miss all of those things but son of a gun, we look like the Four Seasons. There's nothing that says you can't do both."

Dr. Jagoda, the emergency medicine chairman at Mount Sinai, admitted that he, too, was skeptical at first. But, he said, up to eight elderly patients a month were falling in the regular emergency room, and that alone was troubling enough for him to want to try something new. None have fallen in the geriatric E.R., he said.

One mission of the geriatric emergency room is to look at the context of the emergency. So a pharmacist might look at drug interactions, and a visiting nurse might be sent to the home of a patient who fell to look for trip hazards.

As for Ms. Spielberger, who was taking 13 or 14 drugs, the pain in her leg led doctors to find a heart problem, her husband said later. She was admitted to the hospital for one night and sent home, Mr. Spielberger said, with the advice to let it be. It is a visit she would rather forget, except for that skylight.

"It was fantastic," she said. "I called my family to tell them about it."

Mount Sinai Opens New York City's First Emergency Room for Geriatric Patients

The Mount Sinai Hospital, a leader in geriatric care with the most highly rated program in the country, has opened New York City's first emergency room exclusively for patients 65 and older.


- April 6, 2012 /Press Release/ --


The Mount Sinai Hospital, a leader in geriatric care with the most highly rated program in the country, has opened New York City's first emergency room exclusively for patients 65 and older.

More than 15,000 geriatric patients seek emergency care at Mount Sinai each year, and up to half of them arrive at the hospital by themselves. In a busy emergency department setting, they can become disoriented, making them susceptible to falls, delirium, and other ailments unique to this population.

Mount Sinai's new geriatric emergency department (ED) features skid-proof floors and extra handrails to help prevent falls; dimmable lighting and diurnal skylights that mimic natural outdoor lighting throughout the day; and curtains designed to let in less noise.

There are extra heating units to keep older patients warm; special mattresses that help prevent bedsores; and special lounge chairs that make it easier for geriatric patients to get in and out of. Some rooms also feature tablet computers that patients can use to contact the nursing station when they have a need or concern.

Mount Sinai's team of physicians, nurses, social workers, support staff, and volunteers are united in making elderly patients more comfortable during their time in the hospital. This holistic approach is based on Mount Sinai's philosophy that the elderly will leave with better clinical outcomes, and have a higher quality of life long-term, due to improved coordination of care. This is particularly important as the U.S. population of elderly patients continues to grow.

It was the personal experience of Kevin M. Baumlin, MD, Associate Professor and Vice-Chair of Emergency Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, which prompted a multidisciplinary effort to establish a dedicated ED. Dr. Baumlin also created a training program for volunteers called CARE (Care and Respect for Elderly), who assist geriatric patients in the ED.

"Several years ago, my elderly grandmother had fallen and was taken to an emergency room in New Jersey," Dr. Baumlin said. "Eventually I found out that she was discharged and returned to her nursing home confused, scared, and alone," he says. "Two years of work by our multi-disciplinary team has resulted in a new standard of care for older patients in our emergency department."

The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked as the top hospital in the country for Geriatrics by U.S. News & World Report. In 2011, U.S. News & World Report also ranked The Mount Sinai Hospital 16th on its elite Honor Roll of the nation's top hospitals based on reputation, safety, and other patient-care factors.

About The Mount Sinai Medical Center

The Mount Sinai Medical Center encompasses both The Mount Sinai Hospital and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Established in 1968, Mount Sinai School of Medicine is one of the leading medical schools in the United States. The Medical School is noted for innovation in education, biomedical research, clinical care delivery, and local and global community service. It has more than 3,400 faculty in 32 departments and 14 research institutes, and ranks among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and by U.S. News & World Report.

The Mount Sinai Hospital, founded in 1852, is a 1,171-bed tertiary- and quaternary-care teaching facility and one of the nation's oldest, largest and most-respected voluntary hospitals. In 2011, U.S. News & World Report ranked The Mount Sinai Hospital 16th on its elite Honor Roll of the nation's top hospitals based on reputation, safety, and other patient-care factors. Of the top 20 hospitals in the United States, Mount Sinai is one of 12 integrated academic medical centers whose medical school ranks among the top 20 in NIH funding and U.S. News & World Report and whose hospital is on the U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll. Nearly 60,000 people were treated at Mount Sinai as inpatients last year, and approximately 560,000 outpatient visits took place.

  icon paper stack View Older Articles   Back to Top