VINELAND — When Stella McFarland and her family were transported to the emergency department at Inspira on a recent Thursday morning, they didn’t know she would be getting treatment in a specialized area designed for seniors.

In a separate waiting area, large windows with natural light replace harsh, artificial light. The chairs stand at different heights, accounting for patients who may come in with wheelchairs, walkers or other physical aids, and inside the emergency patient rooms, outside sounds are almost completely muted once special glass doors are shut.

Those are just some of the features of Inspira Medical Center Vineland’s new Senior Emergency Department, which officials say was created to meet the needs of a growing elderly patient population.

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“We recognize that seniors respond differently to medicine and treatments than other adults, so it was our goal to implement a specialty program catered to their needs,” said John DiAngelo, Inspira Health Network president and CEO.

Fifteen percent to 20 percent of ER visits are made by people 65 and older, according to national reports. Experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that by 2030, nearly one in five people will fall into that age group.

In Cumberland County, where the majority of Inspira Vineland patients come from, about 14 percent of the population is 65 or older, Census data show.

Foreseeing an increased need for senior care and medical treatment, Inspira experts said the hospital’s $5.8 million expansion project includes new waiting areas, triage rooms and emergency room bays designed specifically to comfort and accommodate seniors.

Kate Davis, assistant nurse manager of the emergency departments at Inspira Vineland, said nurses, doctors, social workers and pharmacists in the Senior Emergency Department underwent additional training on medical obstacles, chronic diseases and health issues that seniors face.

“When patients come in, we usually use their age to determine if they should go to the senior ED waiting room or the regular one,” she said. “We also have protocols we follow depending on what patients present with, and those work-ups may be different for someone who is older.”

On the day McFarland, a Millville resident who is in her 90s, visited the ER with family members, nearly all 11 emergency bays were occupied. Sherry Remy, administrative director of emergency services for Inspira Health Network, said traffic into the ER has been so busy that the senior department is now open 24/7.

In October, the first full month of operation, the Senior Emergency Department provided care to 1,031 patients, Inspira officials reported.

The specialized ER was designed with other subtle, but important, distinctions, Remy said.

Nonslip, nonwaxed floors reduce the chances of slips, falls and bright glares. Plastic handrails border the walls and halls. More comfortable mattresses line the beds, signs throughout the area are in larger, bolder fonts and soft lighting continues in from the waiting area.

“We also have physical therapists on hand to come and talk with patients and families, because so many cases are from falls,” Remy said. “The two front rooms were also designed with palliative care in mind, where there is more space for larger family groups and medical equipment, which can be helpful in those situations.”

The muted patient rooms make it easier for a patient, spouse and family members to listen to medical instructions. The department also has take-home hearing aids and glasses for patients or caregivers to use in case their own aids are forgotten at home during the rush of emergency.

Davis said although it’s the goal to get older residents treated in the Senior Emergency Department, patients will be seen in the regular ER if there is no room, so there is no delay in care.

“We’ve always been treating this patient population, but now we can provide better care with specialized training and a separate emergency department,” she said.

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Contact: 609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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