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U-M, St. Joe collaborate on senior care

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The University of Michigan Health System and St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor are working together to improve care for patients age 70 or older.

The Acute Care for Elders (ACE) unit is housed on the tenth floor of St. Joe's East Tower.

It's one of the few in the country that will follow a model of care intended to help older patients recover from illness or injury.

"Even a short hospitalization can dramatically affect an older patient's independence," says ACE Medical Director Karen Hall.  "In that time, people can actually  lose some ability to do things they normally do, such as get out of bed or even feed themselves."

Hall says the ACE unit will help older patients deal with many issues, including the risk of falls, poor nutrition  and mental health.

It will use a team approach to help patients maintain their independence.

Hall says the acute care for elders concept is to take a group of people who have specialized geriatric training and try to improve hospital outcomes.

"Every single person selected to come. They weren't asked to come or told they had to come. They actually came to us and said, 'We want to work here because we really like geriatric patients,'" Hall says.

Staff will evaluate everything from  mild dementia that may have not been recognized to physical impairments.

"We'll look at hearing and vision loss, mobility issues, as well as several medical conditions we call geriatric syndromes, which are quite common," Hall says.

The ACE unit uses a functional design to make care easier for staff and for patients.

"These are all private rooms. We have equipment in each room like lift rails, washrooms that have been made accessible to people in wheelchairs and permanent night lights. We have pressure-reducing mattresses to help prevent pressure ulcers," Hall says.

The rooms will also have couches that convert into beds for visiting family members who want to stay with their loved ones.

Hall says the need for specialized geriatric care will grow dramatically over the next several years.