One in five Americans will be age 65 or older by 2030. As baby boomers age, hospitals are gearing up to accommodate the special needs of patients age 65-plus. One place these changes are already beginning to occur is in the typical hospital emergency department, where throughout the United States, older adults make 17 million visits annually.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “the United States is on the brink of a longevity revolution.”

Centerpoint Medical Center, part of HCA Midwest Health System—Kansas City’s largest healthcare network—is anticipating what is now a fledgling trend by opening the Seniors Emergency Center on April 4, 2011. This specially designed and equipped four-room ER, which is adjacent to the regular emergency department, will address the unique medical care needs of geriatric patients, including a less frenzied atmosphere, thicker mattresses, softer grip flooring and signage with oversized letters.

In addition, the nurses who work in the Seniors Emergency Center have all received internal training to help them recognize, diagnose and treat for multiple conditions that are unique to geriatric patients and even uncover hidden problems.

“A senior’s visit to the emergency department can uncover underlying health problems that are part of the aging process,” says Ibrahim Mourad, MD, of Midwest Geriatric Physicians. Dr. Mourad is board-certified in internal medicine, completed additional fellowship training in geriatrics and serves as medical director of the Centerpoint Medical Center Comprehensive Geriatric Clinic. “While a patient awaits test results, for example, nurses and doctors can dig a bit deeper to find signs of dementia, depression or other red flags that may affect the overall health of an older individual.”

Carolyn Caldwell, FACHE, president and chief executive officer of Centerpoint Medical Center, says the area’s first comprehensive Seniors Emergency Center will benefit not only seniors, but also their caregivers. “This will be a beneficial resource for the community, aligning with our commitment to provide exceptional and compassionate patient care for the geriatric population and those that care for them.”

Georgia Towers of Independence recalls her elderly mother’s tumble from a hospital bed years ago in Michigan. “She severely broke her hip, which caused major health complications,” says Towers. Her mother passed away, and today Towers thinks the idea of an emergency department appropriate to seniors-only makes sense.

“I am 74 years old,” says Towers, adding that it would give her adult children peace-of-mind to know their mother was in a seniors-friendly environment. “I can see the need for it from a personal perspective.”

Andre Boyd, associate administrator for Centerpoint Medical Center, says the Seniors Emergency Center will have a strong impact on the health and well-being of seniors like Georgia Towers and thousands of others in the area. “The typical emergency department is fast-paced with a certain hustle and bustle,” says Boyd. “Our dedicated area for seniors will help alleviate some of the fears many older adults have of being treated in the emergency department.”