Washington Regional finds a NICHE in senior care


Posted: January 29, 2012 at midnight

The multidisciplinary care team at Washington Regional’s Senior Specialty Unit is trained to focus on the special needs of hospitalized older adults.

The health and well-being of older adults has always been a priority at Washington Regional Medical Center.

The Pat Walker Center for Seniors offers clinics and services focused on healthy aging, while the senior specialty unit provides nursing that targets the specific needs of hospitalized older adults.

This commitment was recognized recently by U.S. News & World Report in its annual guide to the country’s best hospitals, which rated the Fayetteville medical center among the best in the area of geriatrics.

Washington Regional has made another advancement in senior care by adding enhanced services as a NICHE-designated site. Founded in 1992, NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) is the nation’s only geriatric-care recognition program for hospitals.

“Having achieved this designation demonstrates our dedication to providing patient-centered care for older adults,” said registered nurse Tara Madden, NICHE coordinator and manager of the senior specialty unit.

Washington Regional is the only hospital in Northwest Arkansas to have earned the NICHE designation.

“NICHE provides our nurses with the training and resources they need to help patients and their family members with concerns regarding medications, community care options, dementia, discharge planning and anything else that might come up,” Madden said.

Through NICHE, hospital ad- ministrations, physicians, nurses and staff members receive on- going training, have access to evidence-based clinical protocols and are able to share information, knowledge and expertise with other NICHE health-care providers.

About 300 hospitals through- out the United States and Canada currently participate in the NICHE program. Membership is grow- ing, due to the aging of the “baby boomer” generation. According to the National Health Statistics Report, the number of Americans age 65 and older will reach 70 million by 2030, comprising 20 percent of the total population. Although adults age 65 and older currently represent only about 12 percent of the population, they account for 35 percent of hospital stays and more than 40 percent of hospital charges. Additionally, this segment of the population utilizes nearly 50 percent of the nation’s total health-care resources.

“Some older adults may experience functional decline as part of the aging process, which can complicate their treatment for an acute illness,” explains Beverly Winney, Washington Regional’s assistant chief nursing officer and director of the senior specialty unit. “These patients may be more likely to become weak and debilitated when hospitalized. That’s why we established the SSU — to help decrease or prevent these complications.”

Washington Regional is the only area hospital with a specialized senior unit.

The unit treats the same medical-surgical diagnoses found in other patients throughout the hospital, but offers extra services, including a multidisciplinary care team, specially designed interiors and lighting, assistance for the hearing-impaired, group activities and pet therapy.

Using NICHE principles and guidelines, Madden said, Washington Regional will soon begin rolling out a program to place ge- riatric resource nurses throughout the hospital.

“We are committed to senior care in all areas of the hospital, not just in the SSU,” she said. “Adding geriatric resource nurses on other floors will help us provide individualized care to meet the needs of all older patients in the hospital.”

Because of increased emotonal and physical needs, older patients tend to have a high level of personal interaction with their nurses, Madden said.

“That’s why it’s so important to treat each patient as an individual and to tailor care to the individual when possible. Our nurses truly love caring for geriatric patients, and it shows.

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