Aging Baby Boomers Face Healthcare Shortage


Filed under Social Issues

(ARA) – Every day, almost 11,000 baby boomers turn 50. Born between 1946 and 1964, aging baby boomers are the fastest growing segment of the United States population. By 2030, the number of people ages 65 and older will nearly double to 71.5 million, or 20 percent of the population.

“Today, Medicare enrollees with multiple chronic illnesses account for 70 percent of health care expenditures,” says Dr. Kyle Allen, chief of the division of geriatric medicine and medical director of post-acute and senior services at Summa Health System in Akron, Ohio. “Caring for the elderly oftentimes becomes very complicated because the patients have an average of 13 doctors and fill 50 prescriptions each year.”

At the same time the population of people over 65 is increasing, the U.S. is also facing a geriatrician shortage. A geriatrician is a specially-trained doctor who helps to prevent and manage older adults’ multiple health concerns. Typically, these doctors are board certified in internal medicine or family practice with extra training in a geriatric medicine fellowship.

In 2005, there was only one geriatrician for every 5,000 Americans 65 and older. The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) estimates that at least 36,000 geriatricians will be needed in the next 20 years. In planning for this shortage, Summa Health System is offering two fellowship programs in geriatric medicine to help train doctors to become leaders in the field.

Since 2001, Summa Health System has partnered with the Cleveland Clinic to offer a joint Geriatric Medicine Fellowship Program, which trains doctors to become leaders in the field of geriatrics. The program consists of one year of clinical training with an optional second year of research. In addition to the Geriatric Medicine Fellowship, Summa also offers a Palliative Care Fellowship Program, which includes extensive training in both hospice and palliative medicine. The fellows work closely with Summa’s geriatricians, and this enables them to coordinate care and also understand the aging process and complexity of illnesses.

This type of training is necessary for doctors throughout the country. “With the growing aging population, we’re facing a vast need for young people to become geriatricians,” states Dr. Allen. “As they live longer, baby boomers are rapidly placing demands on the healthcare system.”

Summa Health System has created numerous programs aimed at helping the senior population and their families. Dr. Allen helped start the first Acute Care for Elders (ACE) unit in the country, which is specifically designed to help patients maintain function and maximize their independence during hospitalization. The ACE unit’s home-like atmosphere features carpeted patient rooms with artwork, curtains and lighting designed especially for older adults. Since the ACE unit opened in 1994, health systems from around the country have visited Summa to learn more about the ACE model of care. More than 40 units have been created as a result of these visits.

Other Summa programs, such as the Center for Senior Health, specialize in coordinating every aspect of an older adult’s care in order to preserve independence and help the patient and their family cope with the medical, emotional and social problems commonly associated with aging. Geriatricians, geriatric-certified advanced practice nurses and social workers who have special training, testing and certification in the care of older adults meet with each patient and their family to develop individualized care plans addressing every aspect of their well-being. This team- based model maximizes resources with the goal of providing collaborative care to cover all aspects of patients’ treatment.

“The overall goal of the geriatric programs at Summa Health System is to improve our patients’ health and independence,” says Dr. Allen. “We have found this to be cost effective and at the same time, we are able to meet the community’s needs and also address the challenges that will arise as our population gets older.”

Article courtesy of ARAcontent

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