Exempla Lutheran Medical Center is undertaking a major expansion of its senior emergency department, just two years after it first opened the specialty area despite concerns about Medicare reimbursement levels.
The Wheat Ridge hospital will grow the area eightfold, from roughly 2,500 square feet to about 20,000 square feet, said Jan Dionne, program manager for the senior ED.
It is part of an overall $16 million renovation and expansion of the facility’s emergency department to make all of the emergency rooms into private areas and increase the size of those rooms.
Opening the senior-specific area in October 2011 was the first of Exempla Lutheran’s efforts to reach out to the increasingly graying population of Wheat Ridge, Arvada and Lakewood — the western Denver suburbs that make up its core treatment area.
It followed that by launching a senior-focused surgery program in 2012 and a senior behavioral health center early this year.
The senior emergency department was needed because patients suffering from dementia can become agitated in an atmosphere of chaos such as an emergency room represents, and that can exacerbate their condition or cause them to become panicked. And while it is hard to measure how many less panic attacks have occurred in the senior ED, officials say there are statistics that make them feel they are accomplishing their goal.
First, patient-satisfaction scores are way up for seniors who have been brought into the emergency room, said Bev White, Exempla Lutheran director of emergency services.
Also, case managers have increased the number of referrals they are making for seniors to be returned home with aide services or to be placed in long-term care facilities — numbers that show they are getting care outside the hospital.
“All of us in the ED world are now doing patient satisfaction surveys. We know it’s made an impact on their satisfaction,” White said. “That noisy environment is not good for the senior.”
As part of the expansion, the hospital is growing the number of beds in the senior ED — which receives 22 percent of the patients coming into Exempla Lutheran’s emergency room — from eight to 14.
It also will take the beds that are housed together in a “very tight” space now and put each into private rooms, many with their own bathrooms, White said.
In addition, it will equip several of the rooms with negative airflow, so that seniors suffering from contagious bronchial conditions do not spread them throughout the ED and so that seniors who don’t have such conditions are at less of a risk of contracting them from the surrounding atmosphere, White explained. And new beds will be equipped with special mattresses designed to avoid causing pressure ulcers.
The emphasis on treating seniors comes despite continuing concerns over Medicare reimbursements being scaled back by the federal government, even as the Colorado Hospital Association reported that Medicare already covered just 74 cents of each dollar spent treating seniors in 2012.
But Exempla Lutheran officials say they are looking at how to provide the best services to the aging population in a way that can keep them out of the hospital.
Exempla Lutheran also has launched a new spine-care program that looks to avoid surgery on patients, despite such operations being a high revenue generator for hospitals that perform them.
You can read that story in Friday's print edition of the Denver Business Journal.