Often there is carpeting, special lighting or curtains to make older patients feel more at home. But the concept also involves challenging standard practices, from bed rest and feeding methods to routine use of things like urinary catheters that can increase risk of infection and which studies have shown are often needlessly used in older patients.
Developed more than a decade ago, the units have been slow to catch on. Fewer than 300 hospitals have them, or less than 10 percent of the nation's more than 4,000 hospitals.
Startup costs, typically at least $200,000, may be a key reason, but these units can save money in the long run, said Dr. Kyle Allen, an elder-care expert who worked for Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio.
A comparison showed that hospital stays for patients in these settings there were almost half a day shorter than for those in standard hospital units, Allen said. "That doesn't sound like a lot," but it translates to hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual savings, he said.
Now he is helping Riverside Health System develop an elder-care unit at its regional medical center in Newport News, Va.
Northwest Community Healthcare: http://www.nch.org
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