New Initiative Ensures Emergency Rooms are Senior-Friendly

An exam room at the Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Care Unit at UC San Diego Health Image Credit: UC San Diego Health
An exam room in the Geriatric Emergency Department at UC San Diego

Hospitals across the region are making significant commitments to improve emergency care for senior citizens, pledging Monday to participate in a new Senior Emergency Care Initiative.

Under the plan, the County of San Diego will work with hospital emergency departments to get them Geriatric Emergency Department Accreditation, a designation that establishes guidelines for the care of elderly patients. By 2025, more than 1 million San Diegans will be over the age of 55.

“San Diego is seeing a huge surge in its senior population. Many struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and are vulnerable to mishaps and medical emergencies,” said Chairwoman Dianne Jacob, County Board of Supervisors. “Supporting our region’s hospitals as they pursue senior-friendly care in their emergency departments is an important part of the Aging Roadmap, the county’s regional vision and framework for supporting healthy aging.”

The San Diego Senior Emergency Care Initiative is a one-of-a-kind public-private collaboration between the County, the West Health Institute and various regional health care systems.

Alvarado Hospital and UC San Diego Health have already achieved various levels of accreditation. Kaiser Permanente San Diego, Palomar Health, Paradise Valley Hospital, Scripps Health, Sharp HealthCare, Tri-City Medical Center, VA San Diego Healthcare System, and the Hospital Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties have pledged to join the effort.

Funded by $700,000 from the County and the West Health Institute, the initiative aims to help San Diego become the first region in the nation to offer accredited geriatric emergency departments. The goal is to achieve accreditation for the majority of local emergency rooms by the end of next year.

In order to meet accreditation standards, hospitals have to fulfill a wide spectrum of best practices, including enhanced staffing and education, policies and protocols that focus on the needs of seniors, as well as senior-friendly physical enhancements. Enhanced architectural elements include sound-absorbing walls and ceilings to reduce ambient noise, contrasting colors between walls and floors to reduce fall risk, as well as mobility aids and improved lighting.

Katie Cadiao is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact