Now, just one dang minute. Since when does the term “geriatric” apply to people in their mid-50s?

An article in this issue of H&HN profiles hospitals that have designed trauma programs especially for older patients. Our writer, Charlotte Huff, notes that the target population for some of these so-called geriatric trauma programs is 55 and older. Yes, you read right: 55.

“That’s shocking to a lot of people,” acknowledges a program director at one of those hospitals.

No kidding. I haven’t been this rattled by the whole age thing since AARP started sending me its magazine while I was still in my 40s.

As difficult as it may be for baby boomers to admit, we are getting older. For some of us, senior citizenhood has arrived; for the rest, it’s closing in fast. And you bet we're going to have one heck of an impact on the health care system.

Consider these findings from the National Institutes of Health report, “65+ in the United States: 2010”:

• More than 40 million Americans are now 65 or older.

• That number will soar year by year, reaching 83.7 million in 2050, or one-fifth of the U.S. population.

• Rates of smoking and excessive drinking among older folks are on the decline.

• However, the prevalence of chronic disease, a significant chunk of it obesity-related, is climbing.

All of which raises big questions for hospitals.

For instance, government and private sector efforts to reform health care are intended to reduce costs — to a large degree by keeping people out of the hospital. So now, hospitals have to redefine themselves as more than brick-and-mortar places people come to when they're sick. Yes, aging boomers occasionally will require acute care, but, like everybody else, they really, really want to stay in their own homes.

How will hospitals redeploy staff and team up with other providers — and with the patients and their loved ones — to make that happen?

What kind of technology do you need to invest in? How many inpatient beds will you need to maintain or eliminate? How will you improve discharge planning to make sure patients and their families understand what they need to do when they leave your facility, and how will you make sure they do it? How will you strengthen the care continuum — with long-term care facilities, nursing homes, home care providers, retail clinics and the like — so patients continue to receive the highest quality of care inside and outside your four walls? And so that you and your partners receive fair payment?

And how will you accomplish all that even as a significant proportion of your executive team, trustees, and clinical and support staff are themselves heading toward retirement?

That last question will be the focus of next month's installment of "The Boomer Challenge" series. Senior writer Paul Barr will examine how the flood of retirements will impact hospitals at the same time those organizations consider new management and staffing models to meet the demands of health care reform.

In the meantime, I, for one, have decided to embrace growing old, even if it means I'm now part of the geriatric set. It is, as they say, better than the alternative.

— You can reach me at