By Keerti Sharma, MD, Chief of Geriatrics for Morristown Medical
Center and Program Director for the Geriatrics Fellowship
I arrived at Morristown Medical Center ten years ago, just as the hospital was facing a critical and growing need: how do we respond to our rapidly growing geriatric population in the communities that we serve?
According to the US Census Bureau, for the first time in US history, older adults are projected to outnumber children by 2034. And the Blueprint for Healthy Aging in New Jersey says that the over age 60 population is expected to increase to approximately 145,000 by the year 2025, an almost 95 percent increase from 20 years ago.
With the growing number of older adults, the demand to support family caregivers will continue to increase as well. According to the AARP, approximately 41.8 million adults (16.8% of US population), care for a person over the age of 50 and nearly half of all family caregivers provide care for someone over the age of 75. In Morris County, 21.8% of adults report regularly providing care or assistance to a friend or family member. Approximately 84% of caregivers state that they could use more information or help with caregiving issues, specifically information about keeping their loved one safe at home, managing their own stress and making end-of-life decisions.
To address what the media has dubbed “the silver tsunami” – Morristown Medical Center has implemented a comprehensive geriatrics program , under the umbrella of the David and Joan Powell Center for Healthy Aging. The program includes a dedicated Geriatric Emergency Department, a Geriatric Assessment Center, inpatient consultative services and a training program to prepare the next generation of geriatricians and advanced practice nurses. In addition to the clinical services the Center also houses the Healthy Aging program, a phone and email- based hotline service that offers guidance and referrals for community seniors and caregivers. In 2019, hotline utilization increased 32 percent and managed more than 1,200 phone calls and email contacts.
Our New Vitality Program, part of our Community Health spectrum, offers free health and wellness classes and events to help seniors 65+ live well, managing chronic and age-related conditions.
Nearly 30% of our patients at Morristown Medical Center’s Emergency Department are 65 years of age or older. We have a designated portion of the Emergency Department set aside to exclusively serve our senior population. We recently received accreditation as a Level 1 Geriatric Emergency Department through the American College of Emergency Physicians.
We also added a geriatric fellowship program to train the next generation of physicians to care for our aging population. Our program addresses a significant shortage of geriatricians nationally, that allows physicians with backgrounds in internal medicine or family medicine to gain expertise in the assessment, treatment and management of geriatric patients in all clinical settings.
We launched the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) designed to prevent delirium and functional decline in hospitalized older patients. This program saw almost 8,000 patients in 2020 and provided virtual support to hospitalized seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic.Dozens of members of our community have enrolled in our Art of Caregiving Course. The five-part series educates and supports caregivers in their role of helping an aging loved one or spouse. In 2020 our geriatric patient volume grew 19 percent; provider visits were up 21 percent and social worker visits increased 7 percent. Moreover, we partnered with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America in 2019 and were approved as a National Screening Program site offering free memory screening to the community.
We recently opened our new Caregiver Training Lab, nicknamed “Gerry’s Apartment,” that brings hands-on training in caregiving techniques along with cutting-edge strategies for learning how to successfully and safely care for an aging loved one in their home setting. The space includes a model bath, kitchen, bedroom, assistive equipment and common home improvement adaptations to help improve independence and home safety for an older adult. Our ability to meet the needs of our aging population in a timely and effective manner has led to several accomplishments, including being recognized as high performing for geriatrics by U.S. News & World Report in its 2020 recent Best Hospitals rankings.
In addition, Morristown Medical Center maintained “Exemplar” status in its level of geriatric-added nursing care, the highest designation achievable from Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders (NICHE) which is a national organization designed to improve the quality of care for older adult patients and their families. Our hospital achieved this designation by continually educating its nurses and staff in geriatric treatment methods resulting in better outcomes.
Dr. Winters' Story
As cardiologist Stephen Winters, MD, saw his parents struggling to keep their independence in their advancing years, he knew he needed a plan that both addressed their physical needs and also respected their desire for autonomy. The specialists at the Geriatric Assessment Center at Morristown Medical Center evaluated Mr. and Mrs. Winters abilities, limitations, and medical and psychosocial requirements. With this information and the Center’s continued support, Dr. Winters was able to provide his parents a quality of life and degree of safety that made everyone happy.