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Hospital promotes senior-friendly ER

It was six or seven years ago that Russellville Hospital began focusing on better meeting the needs of elderly people being treated in its facilities – particularly in the emergency room. Now, the hospital’s senior-friendly ER is a point of pride.

Dana Buckhalter, ER nurse manager, said the focus on improving treatment for seniors came about after the hospital’s corporate ER director’s elderly mother had a negative experience at another hospital’s ER.

“She felt there could have been better treatment that was more focused toward the elderly population,” Buckhalter said “It caused her to study and get some statistics and realize that a lot of times when these (elderly) patients show up in the ER, they can be under-triaged and under-treated because they are a little more vague in their complaints or they don’t know how to properly explain what’s going on or don’t know what’s going on.”

Buckhalter said Russellville Hospital started by reviewing their files and determining ways the staff could better serve the aging population. The hospital began training staff members in how to give greater focus to anyone older than 65 with more intensive and thorough care during ER visits, to ensure they were getting the full story as to symptoms and related factors.

“If they come to the ER and we don’t take that opportunity to make sure we understand why they are there, that’s an opportunity for them to go home and get sicker and come back to the hospital and have to be admitted,” Buckhalter said. “We have to take that extra time to ask those questions.”

The hospital then started focusing on environment.

“What can we do to make our environment more friendly to the population?” Buckhalter said. “Information tells us they do better when they can be in a quieter environment, where there’s not a lot of equipment in the room and where they don’t feel so closed in by loud colors or loud noises.

“We set up a room that is more senior-friendly. It doesn’t have a lot of equipment in it,” Buckhalter explained. Additionally, “they have the option to lay on the bed or there is a recliner. Sometimes that is also an issue with the elderly population. They are very modest, and they don’t always want to get undressed from head to toe when they are being seen about their foot. (Or they might say) ‘I don’t need to lay down in the bed, I just want you to look at my hand.’ So having that recliner as an option for comfort is sometimes very helpful.”

She said they also try to make sure the senior has had a meal that day and can offer “loaners,” like walking canes and reading glasses, for the senior to use during the ER visit. Staff members also make sure warm blankets are on hand.