The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

May 3, 2013

Conemaugh unveils geriatric trauma center

Randy Griffith

JOHNSTOWN — A 70-year-old who breaks an arm in a fall has a significantly higher risk of death or serious complications, compared to a 40-year-old with the same injury.

That’s why it’s only natural to bring more resources into the treatment of geriatric trauma patients, Dr. Aurelio Rodriguez said Thursday at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center.

“We know, with proper, timely care, elderly patients can return to their lifestyle,” Rodriguez said, announcing the new Geriatric Trauma Institute at Memorial.

Memorial’s trauma team has developed a wide-reaching network of providers to evaluate and treat every elderly trauma patient who is brought to the Level 1 Regional Resource Trauma Center, said Dr. S. Lee Miller, surgery chairman.

In addition to trauma and emergency medicine specialists, the team includes general surgeons, neurosurgeons, neurologists, hospitalists, eye specialists and others, Miller said.

“Those are the people who are automatically seeing these patients when they come through the door,” Miller said, adding that the patients’ primary care physicians play vital roles in continuing care.

“We all believe by working together, we can make a difference in these older patients’ lives, and get them back into their homes,” he said.

Many of those specialists would end up with most of the patients during their stays, but the new protocols bring more comprehensive care earlier, said Dr. Russell Dumire, trauma director.

“There will be a whole group of people seeing those patients within 24 hours,” Dumire said. “It is a huge multidisciplinary approach.”

The Institute reaches beyond the hospital’s walls. New protocols to bring more geriatric trauma patients to Memorial and follow-up visits by home health care specialists are designed to improve outcomes, Dumire said.

Research will be what sets the institute apart from other trauma programs, Rodriguez predicted.

By tracking outcomes, Memorial and its parent Conemaugh Health System expect to demonstrate the value of the approach and develop national standards.

“Care for the elderly is the most expensive part of health care,” Rodriguez said. “We are planning to reduce the cost of health care in Pennsylvania and reduce the cost of health care in the world.”

Research also will include prevention studies, Rodriguez said, noting that falls are the leading cause of injury in senior citizens.

Traveling in Asia, Rodriguez said he noticed groups of older people doing tai chi exercises in parks. He would like to explore the connection between the popular form of exercise and lower incidence of falls in those countries.

Tai chi can improve balance, he said, which can protect seniors.

Nursing doctoral candidate Elizabeth Katracha is exploring funding sources for a study to bring tai chi programs to senior centers and assisted living homes. Using a Wii gaming system’s balance board, researchers will be able to measure improvements.

“We hope to reduce the risk of falls, because we know the horrible things that can happen after a fall,” she said.

The concern is growing, Rodriguez said, noting that by 2050, there will be an estimated 90 million Americans 65 years old and older.

Memorial’s program is the natural home base for the Geriatric Trauma Institute, he said. The trauma center sees the nation’s largest proportion of geriatric patient.

Geriatric patients account for about 45 percent of Memorial’s trauma patients, Rodriguez said. In Pittsburgh, that’s 25 percent, and in Lancaster, it is 37 percent.

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