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The new Senior Emergency Department at Saint Agnes Hospital will feature special features to improve the comfort of older patients such as handrails, quieter rooms and hearing aids. (Photos courtesy of Saint Agnes Hospital)

Saint Agnes Hospital to open special ER for seniors

Saint Agnes Hospital is opening a new section of its emergency department to focus specifically on the treatment of older patients.

The seven-bed unit will include special features to increase the comfort of seniors, including blanket warmers, portable hearing aids, thicker mattresses and handrails to reduce the risk of falls, according to the hospital.

The unit is also set apart from the main emergency room to decrease noise and help patients hear their discharge instructions and lighting levels can be adjusted to accommodate seniors’ vision, said Carol Gallaher, the hospital’s nurse manager.

Soft paint colors were also used in the unit’s rooms to help patients see, according to the hospital.

Saint Agnes’ facility is the second senior emergency department to open in the state; Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring opened the first such department in the country in 2008 with $150,000 from the Holy Cross Foundation, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

“We really feel like we’re on the forefront,” said Susan Mathers, director of emergency services at Saint Agnes. “We see over 8,000 senior adults in the emergency department each year, so there’s certainly a need.”

In 2012, nearly 55 percent of emergency visits by patients aged 65 or older resulted in an admission to the hospital, Mathers said. One of the goals of the department is to try to connect patients with resources that will help them avoid hospital admissions, she said.

Saint Agnes Hospital did not disclose the cost of it’s senior emergency department.

The department will screen patients for issues including depression, elder abuse and delirium, according to the hospital.

Saint Agnes officials say the new emergency department reflects the same philosophy of health care as the health system’s new primary-care facility in Catonsville, which operates on the patient-centered medical home model.

That model emphasizes giving personal attention to patients, coordinating care between the various doctors and specialists who may treat a patient, and offering as many services as possible under one roof at one time to make getting treatment as convenient as possible.

Saint Agnes worked with the Erickson School of Aging Studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County to develop the senior emergency department, which uses such a team-based approach, said Tracy Ellis, a clinical unit coordinator at Saint Agnes.

The senior emergency department itself will operate from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., but since the entire staff of the hospital’s emergency department received additional training in treating seniors, patients admitted outside of those hours will also receive enhanced care, Ellis said.

The new unit is expected to begin operating on Tuesday or Wednesday, Mathers said.