Dartmouth-Hitchcock to open geriatric emergency department

LEBANON, N.H. (WCAX) The Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center is trying to do something no other hospital in New England has done before. It's focusing on our aging population in a new way. Our Adam Sullivan explains what it could mean for your loved one's care.

Hospital officials say every year, millions of elderly patients visit emergency departments across the country, often when they don't need to. At Dartmouth-Hitchcock, they are trying to change things by creating a specialized geriatric ED.

"We will be able to provide a different level of geriatric care during that acute time of need," said Shelley Lyford, the president and CEO of West Health.

West Health is a group of organizations dedicated to improving health care for older adults who want to age in place. New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine have the oldest median populations in the country. Because of that, West Health is partnering with Dartmouth-Hitchcock to open a Level 1 geriatric emergency department in Lebanon. It will be the first in New England. The enhanced ED will focus solely on elderly care.

"That hopefully will translate into seniors being able to go home rather than being admitted to a hospital," Lyford said.

West Health is contributing $3 million to the initiative. Dartmouth-Hitchcock is pitching in an additional $1.5 million. It's a large investment that medical industry experts say will pay off in the long run.

"The ability to lower cost is really avoiding the admission. That is probably our highest cost intervention we have. Number two, using appropriate specialty care so we can actually get people the care that they need and the assessment that they need when they are in the emergency room," said Dr. Joanne Conroy, the CEO of Dartmouth-Hitchcock.

DHMC is the most rural academic medical center in the country and the new partnership expands beyond the main campus. The geriatric ED in Lebanon will be replicated smaller regional hospitals using existing telehealth partners.

"Put in the protocols, we put in the screens, we put in the trainings and we give access via telehealth to our additional personnel here on our main campus," said Dr. Daniel Stadler, the geriatrics director at DHMC.

The goal is to implement that model at rural hospitals across the country, giving elderly patients the care they need at a lower cost.