An Alberta Health Services (AHS) project linking seniors in emergency departments to community supports is expanding to central Alberta and across the province following successes at pilot sites in Red Deer, Edmonton and Calgary.
The Emergency to Home: A Seniors Journey to the Right Care project aims to reduce the number of avoidable emergency department (ED) visits by seniors. A care co-ordinator works with emergency and home care staff to assess and care for seniors in the ED and, when medically appropriate, to safely discharge them with home care and other community supports.
The project is expected to start at the Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre and Wetaskiwin Hospital and Care Centre this fall.
Since the project was introduced in early 2010, AHS staff have assessed more than 15,000 seniors in pilot site emergency departments in Edmonton, Red Deer and Calgary. Seventeen per cent, or more than 2,500 seniors, were connected with home care programs in their community to better manage their health needs.
“This pilot project has proven to be a big success,” said David O’Brien, AHS vice-president of seniors health. “We surpassed our original target of increasing home care referrals from eight to 15 per cent. Our goal is to prevent unnecessary admissions to hospital, where possible, and to better support seniors in the community, especially in chronic disease management, by linking them with existing resources, programs and services.”
The project supports the goals of strengthening primary health care and improving access to acute care outlined in the 5-Year Health Action Plan, jointly developed by AHS and the Government of Alberta and made possible by the 5-Year Health Funding Plan.
Provincially, seniors account for up to 20 per cent of all ED visits and present for various reasons, most commonly falls, digestive problems, circulatory issues, heart problems and diabetes.
“Our ultimate goal is not stopping seniors from visiting the ED but to better support seniors following an ED visit with better linkages to home care and community resources,” said Queenie Choo, AHS executive director of continuing care integrated services, seniors health.
“We believe, in doing so, we can prevent avoidable acute care admissions and ED visits.”
Many seniors in the pilot project are living with one or more chronic conditions and need only a little help at home to cope and maintain quality of life, she added.
“We have observed in some pilot sites, such as Red Deer Regional Hospital, a 50-per-cent reduction in acute admissions in the target population. Sometimes a simple adjustment to a senior’s routines, care or medication will allow them to avoid a hospital admission,” said Choo.