Flashing lights and beeping machines can make an emergency room visit scary and stressful, especially for senior citizens. To improve that experience and improve care, West Boca Medical Center in Boca Raton, Fla. has created an emergency department designed for patients 65 and older.

The senior care emergency room, which opened in November, includes features such as subdued lighting, thicker mattresses, abundant handrails and nonskid floor surfaces. Each nurse in the senior care ER is responsible for four patients, compared with a one nurse/five patient ratio in the hospital's regular ER.

"We're seeing great improvements, and we think our patients like this new experience as well," says Adam Leisy, M.D., medical director of the adult emergency departments at the hospital and its free-standing emergency care center in Coconut Creek.

West Boca's senior care ER is part of a burgeoning trend at hospitals seeking to better serve growing numbers of senior emergency patients, Leisy says. The American College of Emergency Physicians says growing numbers of seniors account for a disproportionate number of ER visits, resulting in a critical need for ER innovations to better serve that population. The need for specialized senior care is especially great in areas with a higher than average number of senior citizens, such as Boca Raton, Leisy says.

Besides a heightened focus on geriatric co-morbidities, a senior care ER also is tailored for ambience. Leisy says a regular ER emits "a lot of sounds, a lot of beeping. There may be people screaming or groaning in pain."

Providing geriatric patients with a quieter, more comfortable ER helps them get better faster, he says.

Tenet Healthcare, which owns West Boca Medical Center, is pushing for the establishment of senior care ERs at its hospitals, Leisy says. "This is something we want to do to be more beneficial to our patients."

West Boca Medical Center created the senior care ER by carving out a section of the regular ER. All of the hospital's emergency room staffers have received specialized training for the program. The training includes how to deal with patients who have broken hips and long bone fractures. "The staffers are trained on how to make sure we're taking care of pain right away," Leisy says.

Dealing with four patients per shift instead of five puts nurses in closer touch with their patients, Leisy says.

The experiences of patients in the senior care ER have made a positive impact on West Boca Medical Center's patient satisfaction scores, Leisy says. Such improvements can translate into higher ratings for hospitals on scorecards such as Medicare.gov's Hospital Compare Star Ratings, he adds.

"Some of that has to do with patient safety," Leisy says. "A lot of it has to do with patient throughput. It's beneficial to the hospital to have this kind of care, because it really helps improve those numbers for us."

Leisy says creating a senior care ER involves expenditures, but adds that "it doesn't take a lot to do it. That's why the juice is worth the squeeze here. You don't have to do a ton, and it makes a big difference."