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Senior Emergency Unit Opens In UCSD La Jolla Hospital

Vaishal Tolia, M.D., director of the Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Care...

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: Vaishal Tolia, M.D., director of the Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Care Unit stands in one of the 11 new geriatric rooms specially designed to provide care for seniors, Jan. 9, 2019.

Crowded and chaotic emergency rooms can be overwhelming and sometimes dangerous for seniors. A new emergency unit specially designed for patients 65 and older at UC San Diego Health in La Jolla is working to provide a higher level of care and a more dignified experience.

“We are now seeing almost 35 percent of our patients over the age of 65," said Vaishal Tolia, M.D., director of the Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Care Unit. “So what we’ve realized is this population, similar to the pediatric population has very specific needs.”

The 11 new patient rooms inside the accredited geriatric wing are equipped with sound-absorbing walls and ceilings and a variable lighting system that reflects the actual time of day.

“The beds are much more comfortable for prolonged stays if seniors need to be in bed for a prolonged period of time," Tolia said.“With the goal of providing services up front and avoiding hospital admission for them.”

Senior patients are treated by a team of doctors and nurses with special training in geriatric medicine.

“So they look for things like fall risk, depression, cognitive impairment, review of medications,” Tolia said. “They work with physical therapy, pharmacy and all these other services that we bring to the emergency department.”

The goal of the senior unit is to lower hospital admissions and readmissions as the growing aging population is expected to increasingly strain medical resources.

In California, the number of people 65 years and older is expected to climb by 2.1 million by 2026, according to Census data. By 2030, the number of people 65 and older in San Diego County is expected to double.

Tolia said seniors often have multiple symptoms and require complex care.

“They can present with infections, not with your typical symptoms that a younger adult would have, but weakness, dizziness, confusion, things of that nature and oftentimes those vague symptoms don’t really require an admission to the hospital, but require some upfront specialized care.”

The geriatric unit is funded in part by a $12 million grant from philanthropists Gary and Mary West. The grant enables research initiatives between UC San Diego Health and the West Health Institute to identify, evaluate and disseminate best practices in geriatric emergency care.

“We’re really excited about being able to populate this throughout the state of California and then taking the best practices and implementing them in different medical centers across the United States,” said Shelley Lyford, president and CEO of West Health.

Crowded and chaotic emergency rooms can be overwhelming and sometimes dangerous for seniors. A new emergency unit specially designed for patients 65 and older at UC San Diego Health in La Jolla is working to provide a higher level of care and a more dignified experience.

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