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San Diego County marks a first in nation for geriatric emergency care

It's a first in the nation: All eligible hospitals in San Diego have officially earned geriatric emergency department, or GED, certification.

That means that they specifically cater to seniors who may have dementia, cognitive decline and physical conditions that make it more difficult to navigate the emergency room.

UC San Diego’s Jacobs Medical Center is one of the sites.

“This is quite different than the regular ER. It had a smaller venue,” Susan Nelson, a patient at Jacobs, told KPBS. “I mean, it was just like 18 beds, very comfy — soundproof walls. The floors were nonskid.”

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Courtesy of UC San Diego Health
An empty bed occupies the middle of a geriatric emergency department room on Jan. 2, 2019.

Right now, 13% of San Diego County’s residents are people over the age of 65, but that number is predicted to rise to about 21% by the end of this decade.

By 2034, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates, older adults will outnumber people younger than 18 nationwide for the first time.

“For all of us that have aging parents, we know how important this really is,” UC San Diego Health CEO Patty Maysent said. “It hits close to the heart, I think, for all of us, that we could create a situation where our family — our mothers and fathers — can come in and get the kind of care they can get in our geriatric EDs.”

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Jacob Aere
UC San Diego Health CEO Patty Maysent speaks at a news conference outside of the Jacobs Medical Center, Aug. 11, 2022.

David Flores is a geriatric nurse at Jacobs Medical Center, which was the first hospital in the region to introduce a geriatric emergency department, in 2019.

He will soon be a senior himself and sees the program as a health care boost to the region.

“I think there’s a need. We baby boomers are growing, and we’re living longer. And we want to keep doing that, too!" Flores said. "We want to keep living longer and healthier."

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Jacob Aere
A sign signals the senior emergency care initiative outside of UC San Diego Jacobs Medical Center, Aug.11, 2022.

San Diego County is now home to 18 accredited GEDs across the region.

According to county officials, the GEDs have the potential to reach more than 275,000 seniors. People older than 65 account for roughly one-third of all emergency department visits in San Diego.

Officials say the public-private collaboration spearheaded by the county and West Health will serve as a model across the state and nation.

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