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Solving an age-old issue: Keeping seniors healthy for longer

Feb 18, 2016, 10:19 AM by KirstiAnn Clifford
ACE Unit nursing staff from left: Sandra Fontenette, Virginia Brown, Rebecca Travis, Cleo Douglas, Tammie Michael, Colleen James and Jomar Patawaran.

Ten thousand baby boomers will turn 65 every day through 2030, according to the Pew Research Center. It’s a sobering statistic that shows older adults are becoming the core consumers of health care. Improving geriatric nursing competence is more critical than ever before—and UTMB is committed to doing just that.

UTMB recently achieved “Senior Friendly” status by the Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders program, the only national designation indicating a commitment to elder care excellence. NICHE, based at New York University College of Nursing, is a network of more than 660 health care facilities in the U.S., Canada, Bermuda and Singapore.

“The designation signals our dedication to providing patient-centered care for older adult patients,” said Colleen James, UTMB’s NICHE coordinator. “As the only NICHE hospital in the Texas Medical Center, we are able to offer evidence-based, interdisciplinary approaches that promote better outcomes, positive experiences and improved care for older adults. And in collaboration with the Sealy Center on Aging and the Acute Care for Elders (ACE) Unit, UTMB is able to provide exemplary care to the older adult population.”

UTMB’s ACE Unit originally opened in 2000 and is designed specifically with the elderly in mind. The unit is staffed with an interdisciplinary team of geriatric nursing staff, physicians, case managers, physical and occupational therapists, dieticians and a pastor, all of whom are trained in the special needs of the elderly.

CleoDouglasAs part of its continued efforts to improve quality and care for patients 65 and older, the ACE Unit has implemented interdisciplinary team rounds each day at 2 p.m. to discuss each patient and to plan safe patient discharge.

“For each patient, we identify geriatric syndromes such as delirium, dementia, pain management, mobility and incontinence,” said James. “Functional status is one of the big focuses right now. We want to prevent older adults from having a decline once they are discharged, so we want to make sure we put them in the best position to do well once they leave here. Having all members of the team fully aware of what is going on with patients and identifying or preventing geriatric syndromes from occurring in the first place is making a big difference.”

Cleo Douglas has been a registered geriatric nurse at UTMB for the past 15 years and recently underwent training through NICHE to become a geriatric resource nurse. She helps educate other nurses and doctors throughout the hospital regarding geriatric protocols.

“I want to make sure all geriatric patients at UTMB are provided the care that I would want my parent or grandparent to receive,” said Douglas. “If our older adult patients are able to go back home even for one more month instead of being discharged to a facility, that means the world to them. They want to be independent and do as much for themselves as they possibly can. Our job is to get them back to the best possible health and keep them there so they can be independent.”

Other initiatives UTMB has put into place include adding a week of geriatric specific training to UTMB’s nurse internship program and implementing a transitional care nurse practitioner who follows all older adult hospital patients who are at a high risk of readmission. A new volunteer program called Support for and Promotion of Optimal Nutritional Status, or SPOONS, recently launched,as well. Volunteers help patients at mealtimes by assisting them as needed or sitting by as a dining companion.

To become a volunteer with the SPOONS program, email Colleen James at For more information on NICHE, visit

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