Imagine that you have been married to the love of your life for 55 years,…
In most of our minds, hospitals are places where we go to recover from injuries or illnesses. That’s not the case for many elderly patients though. They leave the hospital in worse condition than when they were admitted. Even if they have recovered from what they were admitted for, they have likely deteriorated physically, mentally, or both.
The physical and mental deterioration these elderly patients experience leads to a reduced ability to care for themselves. This often requires them to rely on in-home care or move to an assisted living facility or a nursing home. The extra care not only robs them of their independence but also increases their healthcare costs.
A mixture of factors contribute to the worsening of elderly patients’ health:
- improper feeding or unappetizing food,
- too much time lying in bed,
- restricted movement due to being tethered to medical equipment,
- inadequate pain control,
- unnecessary procedures and redundant or potentially harmful medications, and
- inadequate sleep due to the noisy hospital environment and interruptions by hospital staff.
Often doctors and hospital staff put so much effort into treating injuries and acute illnesses, such as heart disease and pneumonia, that they overlook other aspects of their patients’ care. Hospitals generally don’t face consequences if elderly patients become more impaired or less functional during their time in the hospital.
Hospitals can get penalized by the federal government if their patients fall down, get preventable infections, or return to the hospital within 30 days from being discharged. They are not held accountable, though, if their patients experience memory loss or lose their ability to walk.
Acute Care for Elders
In 2007, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center opened their Acute Care for Elders (ACE) Unit to meet the unique needs of their elderly patients. The ACE Unit’s mission is to provide the best possible care for their elderly patients by maintaining and improving their physical and mental abilities. Recognizing the particular needs of older patients, other hospitals have opened similar units of their own.
The doctors and medical staff in the ACE Unit in Zuckerberg San Francisco General offer their patients interdisciplinary care in a prepared environment and careful medication review to eliminate unnecessary medications. They also use non-medication interventions, such as exercise, socializing, and improved sleep hygiene to increase their patients’ chances of returning to their homes upon being discharged from the hospital.
If patients are admitted to an ACE unit early enough in their hospital stay, they have a good chance of avoiding the problems they would face if they were in staying in an area of the hospital that is not staffed or equipped to address their needs. This will save time and money and will give the patients a better chance of living independently for longer. This is good news since the number of older adults needing hospital treatment is projected to increase dramatically with the aging baby boomer generation.
Most health care expenses come later in life. Government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, can help offset these expenses. Qualifying and applying for these benefits can be tricky. Getting the help of an experienced elder law attorney can save you time and money in the long run.