Carroll Hospital is putting the finishing touches on its new emergency department senior care suites — four private rooms where older patients will be afforded a more comfortable than usual hospital experience starting in November.

The rooms will feature creature comforts, such as softer mattresses and lighting, and are also located in a relatively quiet wing of the emergency department — referred to by hospital personnel as the ED — according to Stephanie Reid, chief nursing officer and vice president for patient care at Carroll Hospital. When the suites open, she said, Carroll Hospital will be one of only three Maryland hospitals with such facilities.

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"The medical staff in the ED and through the hospital are very much supporters of this endeavor and this initiative," Reid said. "We have found there are a lot of baby boomers coming down the road in the next several years and we wanted to be better prepared."

All 40 beds in the Carroll Hospital emergency department are private rooms, according to Reid, but none feature bathrooms.

"We knew that was an issue for an older patient, so we actually are installing built-in bedside commodes in each [of the four senior rooms] so they won't have to struggle," she said.

The addition of bedside commodes is just one of the things that differentiates the senior suites from other emergency department facilities.

"There's been a lot of research done on the setting for these kinds of programs, and what works and what doesn't," she said, adding, "There is research out there on what color to paint the walls, because certain colors are more or less stimulating for confused patients or older patients."

Reid went on to say: "We have soothing colors, we have different lighting that can be dimmed so it is not so bright, we have more hand rails and we actually are replacing the floor to be a more cushioned floor to prevent fall injuries."

The senior rooms will be perfect for elderly patients who are mildly confused, or who come in dealing with potentially serious illnesses such as the flu, according to Reid. More critical situations, such as heart attacks or strokes, will still need to be treated in the larger emergency rooms equipped for dealing with trauma, Reid said.

The idea for the senior care suites, Reid said, came out of Carroll Hospital's community partnerships with organizations like the Carroll County Health Department, McDaniel College and the nonprofit Cooperative for Senior Advocacy, but also because of recognition of the community's changing demographics. People age 65 and older make up 15 percent of the Carroll County population according to 2014 American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau, a percentage that will likely increase as the baby boomer generation ages.

"It is the fastest growing portion of the population," said Buck Harmon, founder of the Cooperative for Senior Advocacy. "I think they saw the need and are responding to it beautifully."

The Cooperative for Senior Advocacy had toured the geriatric emergency facilities at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, which along with Saint Agnes Hospital in Baltimore was the only other Maryland hospital with similar facilities at the time, and lobbied Carroll Hospital to consider building their own such senior care rooms, Harmon said.

Meanwhile, in 2012, Reid said the hospital was certified by the Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders, or NICHE, "a nurse-driven program that's dedicated to helping health-care systems improve the care for their older patients," she said.

About 12 percent of the nation's hospital's have such certification, according to Reid.

That training process got Carroll Hospital staff thinking about other senior care best practices that could be put in place, Reid said. After they took a tour of Holy Cross, Reid and other hospital leaders decided to establish their own senior care suites.

"We have really already been doing 90 percent of the components already, just not in one set location in the emergency department," Reid said. "We are also planning on having a geriatric specialist who will be on the emergency department team to help with these patients and their needs."

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For Harmon, who became an advocate for better senior care when he had difficulty finding good care for his own father, these new rooms are a wonderful start of something he hopes will grow to keep pace with the growing senior population.

"I am elated to hear that four beds will be available and I am looking forward to eight," he said. "I look forward as the hospital is able to expand it."

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