Friday, January 19, 2018
Health

HCA opens first local 'seniors ER' at St. Petersburg General

ST. PETERSBURG — Emergency room patients come in all ages, but St. Petersburg General Hospital decided to focus a makeover on one group: seniors.

The hospital, owned by national chain HCA, recently unveiled new senior-friendly details in its emergency department. They include:

• Four treatment rooms outfitted with softer lighting, thicker mattresses and nonskid floors.

• A separate waiting area.

• Three seniors-only parking spaces close to the ER doors.

St. Petersburg General's remodeled ER wing is more evidence of how HCA has turned up the marketing of its ER services. The company recently put up a "Seniority Matters" billboard that advertises the new amenities to the patients who, thanks to Medicare, are far more likely to carry health insurance than younger people.

The changes cost about $50,000, said Diane Conti, director of the hospital's emergency department.

In addition, the ER staff was retrained about geriatric care, such as screening for dementia, managing medications and asking carefully worded questions to understand what the patient's home environment is like.

"As people get older, they are very reluctant to say they need help," Conti said.

St. Petersburg General's seniors ER is the first in HCA's west Florida division, though the company has opened several elsewhere in Florida. BayCare Health System, the Tampa Bay's largest hospital provider, doesn't have a formal seniors-only ER but offers many services that elders need, said spokeswoman Beth Hardy. They include valet parking, patient care technicians who can work closely with them, and accommodations for diminished hearing and eyesight.

"We train for all populations," Hardy said.

Seniors-only emergency rooms could be the next trend, though it's too early to tell if it's a "fad or wise planning," says a report this year from the ECRI Institute, a nonprofit health research organization. No one tracks the numbers, but researchers used news articles to estimate that more than 50 have opened since 2011, with another 150 in development.

There's also great variety in what they look like. One hospital spent $3.2 million on its seniors ER. Some do more than train the staff; they assign geriatric care specialists to those ER patients.

Recent changes under the federal Affordable Care Act make the new seniors ER potentially more relevant. Backers hope that providing specialized care to elders can reduce readmissions and improve patient satisfaction. Under the law, hospitals are penalized by Medicare for having increasing readmission rates for heart attack, heart failure and pneumonia patients.

Contact Jodie Tillman at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.

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