No extended hospital stays for elderly patients at 1 facility

Hospital stays can be stressful for an elderly patient and their family. Unfortunately, studies show older patients often don't do well after being hospitalized. That's why Oak Bend Medical Center in Richmond has developed a state-of-the-art unit for elderly patients known as "ACE." Up and safely out of bed is one of the main goals at the Acute Care for the Elderly unit.

"Any of us - no matter our age - when we're in bed, we lose functional capacity.  The more elderly we are, the faster we lose that capacity.  Ton of research says you want to get everybody out of the hospital as soon as possible, especially elderly folks, because they lose functional capacity in the course of a hospital stay," explains Joe Freudenberger, the CEO of Oak Bend Medical Center. He says otherwise, it can lead to infections. Blood clots and pressure sores are also a concern during lengthy bed rest.   

Patients at Oak Bend Medical Center are encouraged to communicate with others, and not feel isolated. They even get to do this through group physical therapy sessions every day. They also share meals in a nearby dining room for patients. It gives them purpose to get out of bed, important for wellness and well being and gives them socialization.

Joe Freudenberger  helped develop this high-tech unit. It's near and dear to his heart.  "I have a 93 year old dad and 89 year old mom, dad's a World War II vet!  I want them around as long as they have days in them, and we used the protocols to save his life!  The nurses didn't tell me at the time how bad he was, his prognosis was not good," says Freudenberger.  He says his dad thrived and survived under the new protocol, and this unit came about shortly after that successful trial run. 

The physical environment here at this ACE unit is different than most hospitals, starting with a nurse's station that sits lower than most. Patients have easy access to medical workers, even if they're in a wheelchair. Even the lighting and flooring have been tweaked with older eyes in mind, because a shiny floor could lead to fears that it's slippery, which could discourage patients from walking around.  "We have a non-glare floor.  It is wood flooring, with a dark border around it, that warns it might be a hazard to the elderly, if they have a sight problem.  They can extensively see it is a "no go zone" or "be careful zone".  Hand rails are out where a person might potentially need them.  The non-glare concept is replicated in our lighting which is reflective florescent light, instead of direct fluorescent lighting," says Freudenberger.  The goal is to make this area such a comfortable place to get around... that patients won't be concerned or scared to get out bed.

A sitting area is meant to attract patients and their families, as well.  From fun fish, to marvelous murals, and even a year-around fireplace, it's meant to draw patients out of their rooms to enjoy the scenery. "It is all about engaging our patients and their family and friends, and that leads to better outcomes," says Freudenberger.  He goes on to say, patients being treated at Oak Bend's ACE unit get out of the hospital 40-percent FASTER than any other facility, at this only facility of its kind, in the Greater Houston area.

Oak Bend Medical Center has already won awards for increasing awareness of geriatric issues, improving staff competence in nursing care of the elderly, and supporting these new protocols.

For more information, visit