The Holy Cross Seniors Emergency Center is the first of its kind.
The Seniors Emergency Center at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md., takes a different approach to geriatric care. The lighting is more muted than the blinding bulbs installed in most emergency departments. It's also quieter and clinicians take more time with patients and families, says Bonnie Mahon, senior director of senior services at Holy Cross.

Since the center opened in November 2008 as the nation's first geriatric ED, more hospitals have followed. Park Plaza Hospital and Medical Center in Houston opened a geriatric ED in October 2010.

Holy Cross Hospital's sister organization, Saint Joseph Mercy Health System in Michigan, was expecting to spend $1.4 million to open senior EDs in eight of its hospitals by the end of last month.

"It's more than just redecorating," Garry Faja, president and CEO of Saint Joseph Mercy, commented to Health Facilities Management's sister publication, Hospitals & Health Networks.

Staff training has been crucial, particularly on assessment. If a senior comes in because of a fall, the staff has been trained to consider additional chronic diseases as well as to detect mixed-up medications and other undiagnosed conditions like dementia.

Treating seniors in a separate emergency department is one way hospitals hope to curb rehospitalizations. So far, 30-day rehospitalizations for older patients at Holy Cross Hospital Seniors Emergency Center — half of whom come in for fall injuries — have dropped from 10.9 percent to 5.2 percent.