The Geriatric Imperative

By Allen S. Weiss, MD, President and CEO, NCH Healthcare System

Caring for the elderly is moving front and center in Southwest Florida as the Brookdale Geriatric Center matures within the NCH Healthcare System. The geriatric imperative is a movement to promote health by preventing and treating diseases and disabilities in older adults. Information for anyone who is elderly or wants to help an elderly relative or friend is now available through NCH’s Access Healthline Service at (239) 624-1999.

Organizing all the available resources for the elderly with a geriatric navigator is the next new addition to our community. A person stressed by illness, particularly an elderly person, needs and appreciates all the help and direction available. The Brookdale Geriatric Center will become the epicenter for this support. Importantly, prevention along with education for the elderly and their caregivers will be an integral part of the Center.

NCH has applied for a NICHE designation (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) which is the leading-nurse driven program designed to help hospitals and healthcare organizations improve the care of older adults. The vision of NICHE is for all patients 65 and over to be given sensitive and exemplary care. The mission of NICHE is to provide principles and tools to stimulate a change in the culture of healthcare facilities to achieve patient-centered care for older adults.

We aspire to have more geriatricians, nurse practitioners, and physicians assistants specializing in geriatrics in southwest Florida over the next few years. The medical specialty of geriatrics is focused on caring for all the elderly—from the young vibrant to frail elderly. There is no set age for patients to be under the care of a geriatrician or geriatric physician. Rather, this decision is determined by the individual patient’s needs, and the availability of a specialist.

Having a system wide initiative to have 4,000 colleagues sensitive to the special needs of the elderly will help our entire community’s health by preventing accidents, complications, and additional illnesses associated with hospitalization. As our plans with telemedicine progress, we will be able to care for more folks in their own homes, thus avoiding the disruption of hospitalization.

We will also be implementing an Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) program to spread principles of geriatric-specific care throughout the healthcare system via nursing rounds. Through this consultation, patients who have geriatric specific needs will have access to geriatric specialists.

We have such a wonderful opportunity to match the needs of our community with our new resource, the Brookdale Geriatric Center. We are just at the beginning of a wonderful journey to help our seniors live longer, happier, and healthier lives.