Hospital Elder Units Help Seniors Go Home

The need for specialized hospital units for seniors is high and growing—and the proven ability of these units to return seniors to live at home independently could spell good things for the home health care industry.

Approximately one-third of patients older than 70 years of age and more than half of patients older than 85 are discharged from the hospital more disabled than when they were admitted, according to Kaiser Health News.

That’s not the case at the Acute Care For Elders (ACE) ward at San Francisco General Hospital. The ward, which opened in 2007 and serves more than 400 older patients per year, is meant to address the needs of senior patients—which are markedly different from those of younger patients, Kaiser says.


With younger patients, hospital stays often revolve around treating an original diagnosis. The team in San Francisco General Hospital’s ACE ward, meanwhile, concentrates primarily on how to get patients back home, living as independently as possible, Kaiser reported. Patients are encouraged to practice living independently, as opposed to remaining in bed.

“Bed rest is really, really bad,” Edgar Pierluissi, the medical director at ACE, told Kaiser. “It sets off an explosive chain of events that are very detrimental to people’s health.”

Soon after patients are admitted to the ACE ward, the staff assess their memories and evaluate how well they can walk and take care of themselves on their own.


During their stay, the staff enables patients to practice caring for themselves. For instance, staff may disconnect patients’ IVs and catheters, and encourage patients to get out of bed and eat in a communal dining room, Kaiser reported.

ACE units have been proven to reduce the number of patients discharged to nursing homes, decrease lengths of stay and reduce hospital-inflicted disabilities in senior patients, Kaiser reported.

“If you don’t feed a patient, if you don’t mobilize a patient, you have just made it far more likely they will go to a skilled nursing [facility], and that’s expensive,” Robert Palmer, director of the geriatrics and gerontology center at Eastern Virginia Medical School and one of the minds behind the idea of ACE units, told Kaiser.

Demand for these specialized senior units are high, and space is limited where they do exist, Kaiser reported. After all, there only about 200 specialized hospital units for seniors nationwide.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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