You are here

West Wichita’s only full-service hospital adds city’s only Geriatric ER

It's official: Ascension Via Christi St. Teresa is now the state's first hospital outside the Kansas City metro area with an accredited Geriatric Emergency Department.

The Emergency Department at St. Teresa, received three-year Level 3 accreditation by the American College of Emergency Physicians' Geriatric Emergency Department Accreditation program last week.

"This is a major achievement, one that reflects a significant investment in, and commitment to, meeting the needs of older patients," says James Vayda, MD, the board-certified emergency medicine specialist leading the effort for Ascension Via Christi's Wichita hospitals. "Our plan is to pursue accreditation at our other two full-service Ascension Via Christi hospitals, St. Francis and St. Joseph, in the coming months."

St. Teresa's Geriatric ER is staffed by a multidisciplinary care team whose members have specialized training and education in emergency and geriatric care. Additionally, four of the ER's 14 exam rooms and all of its common areas have been renovated to address seniors' specialized care needs, such as using contrasting color schemes for floors and walls to help patients with low vision or depth perception issues move about safely and more comfortably.

Other geriatric-friendly features include easy-to-read signs and clocks; pressure-reducing mattresses; easy-to-grab hand rails; extra seating for family; skid-proof footwear; large print documents; bedside commodes; walkers and other mobility aids; and blanket warmers.

"St.Teresa's easy-to-navigate floor plan, coupled with doorside parking, also is a big draw for our older patients," says Matthew Sinnwell, MD, medical director for its ER, noting that two out of every three patients coming to the St. Teresa ER already were 65 or older.

But becoming accredited as a Geriatric Emergency Department requires more than changing the physical environment, supplies and equipment, says Jaclyn Carnahan, the internal consultant who served as the project's coordinator and Shelli Dreiling, RN, the certified geriatric emergency nurse educator leading the clinical team. It also requires a different model of care.

"With older patients, you often are communicating with family members who are responsible for their care outside the hospital setting," says Dreiling. "So it is important that even during a time when no visitors are being allowed in the ER in response to COVID that we work doubly hard to keep family engaged."

In a geriatric emergency department, the continuum of care also differs from that of the typical ER. "Many of our older patients come in with fall-related injuries, so we look at what may have contributed to their fall and what modifications or home-based care may be needed to ensure patients' safety once they leave our hospital."

Dr. Sinnwell and Dreiling both say they are excited to see the city’s only accredited Geriatric ER launched at west Wichita’s only full-service hospital.

"When St. Teresa opened almost 10 years ago, it was intended to serve as an innovation incubator for the other hospitals," says Dr. Sinwell. "So as we continue to review our care standards to ensure that they support optimal care of older adults, we'll be benefiting senior care throughout our health system."

In 2014, ACEP along with Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, Emergency Nurses Association, and American Geriatrics Society, developed and released geriatric ED guidelines, recommending measures ranging from adding geriatric-friendly equipment to specialized staff to more routine screening for delirium, dementia, and fall risk, among other vulnerabilities.

Similar to trauma center designations, the GEDA program provides specific criteria and goals for emergency clinicians and administrators to target. Its accreditation process provides more than two dozen best practices for geriatric care; the level of GEDA accreditation achieved depends upon how many of these best practices have been met.

"As we move forward, our goal is to work toward an even higher level of accreditation as we seek to ensure that seniors receive the best care possible," says Sinnwell.

About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Ascension Via Christi.