There is a movement beginning in Carroll County that could totally revolutionize the medical gerontology healthcare system, said Buck Harmon, founder of the Cooperative for Senior Advocacy, a non-profit organization.
The cooperative, founded in April, has made improving the healthcare opportunities for the elderly its prime directive, Harmon said.
"The environments in the hospitals and nursing centers in Carroll County are not conducive to the best care opportunities there can be because there is no program in place that these fragile humans need," he said.
The cooperative's members include 26 people who have varied backgrounds and positions, yet all feel strongly about the need for the creation of a senior healthcare system. One member, Sharon Sanders, vice president of clinical integration at the Carroll Hospital Center, said this is first time in her career she's been a part of a movement like this.
"We need to make sure we create a system of care," she said. "There has never been a community effort to educate [the elderly]. There's never been a forum like this."
Harmon said he saw the flaws in the system when he was caring for his father who was suffering from dementia. Regardless of where Harmon took his father, they failed to get them the help they needed or the answers to any important question. Harmon said he took it upon himself to become knowledgeable about his father's condition and said he realized then the medical treatment he was receiving was inadequate.
"Even the people at Carroll Hospital Center didn't argue the point," Harmon said. "There was no debate."
To affect any sort of lasting change, the elderly are the first who need to be educated, said Dr. Peter Uggowitzer, a member of the cooperative who is a primary care physician based in Hampstead. To accomplish this, the organization is planning on releasing a brochure containing basic information that seniors and those who care for them need to know, and that will be distributed to all hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living centers and libraries.
Specifically, the brochure will include information about common hardships and health issues the elderly might face and a step-by-step checklist teaching those who are responsible for the care of the elderly about proper medical practices. Harmon said the cooperative decided that the Carroll Hospital Center, with its highly trained and knowledgeable staff, should be in charge of ironing out exactly what will be included. As for distribution, Diane Martin, director of The Center for the Study of Aging at McDaniel College and a member of the cooperative, said many of her students have shown interest in handing them out at the different locations.
The brochure is the first part of informing and preparing the elderly and those who care for them, said Harmon. The second step is the creation and distribution of what the cooperative has dubbed a Senior Go Bag, a capsule that will include information enabling hospital workers to quickly identify the prior and current medical conditions and prescriptions for those who carry a bag and hasten response time.
"There is no preparedness in the event that the elderly get sick," Uggowitzer said. "We decided that some kind of package could educate the elderly and doctors, to tell them what they will need in case [the elderly] get sick."
The bag will have an assortment of useful information besides medical conditions and prescriptions, including a list of all allergies and sensitivities, the individual's primary physicians name and contact information, a copy of their most recent electrocardiogram readout, which tests for problems with the electrical activity of the heart, insurance cards, and much more.
As for the cooperative's time frame for distribution, Harmon is both aggressive and optimistic.
"To get it to every senior in Carroll County within the year, that's the goal," he said.
The brochure and the Senior Go Bag are just the first two steps in designing a fully operational and efficient elderly healthcare paradigm, said Uggowitzer. The culmination of this system will be realized when an emergency room is constructed that specializes in elderly care.
At the cooperative's monthly meeting July 17, a motion was passed to go forward with research and development of the brochure and Senior Go Bag. However, these things cost money, said Uggowitzer, and the biggest hurdle in the path to a functional and sustainable system is funding. The cooperative is a nonprofit and so far has held no fundraisers and the price of printing the brochures, compiling information for every senior that wants a bag, educating the public and providing assistance to healthcare providers will be steep.
"There is money at the state level for pilot projects like this, particularly if you can hook this up to academia," Uggowitzer said. "All the components are in place to satisfy the requirements of a pilot financing grant."
According to Uggowitzer, the senior percentage rate is growing in Carroll County and the need for a medical gerontology healthcare system is only going to become more crucial as the population increases. What the cooperative has accomplished so far is just the beginning of a movement that Harmon believes will one day affect the nation. Uggowitzer said in order to smooth the road for organizations like them in other parts of the country, the cooperative needs to continue to concentrate on doing what they have planned so others can follow their lead.
As Martin put it, there is a tangible wall between the condition of our aged loved ones and those of us who have not experienced the betrayal of our minds and bodies to the inevitability of time. The irony: the wall is supplied by the hospital.
"There is a town to gown barrier, and it needs to be taken down," Martin said.
Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.