Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, West Health Partner to Create Nation’s First Rural Geriatric Emergency Department


October 23, 2019

$4.5 million research collaboration will combine geriatrics, emergency medicine telehealth to benefit Northern New England seniors  

LEBANON, NH — As the U.S. population ages, older adults are turning to emergency departments (EDs) for their health care needs. In response, EDs must be equipped not only to deal with acute medical emergencies, but also to coordinate care, avoid admissions when possible, provide patients with support, and connect them to community partners through an ED environment designed with the needs of seniors in mind.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH) will partner with West Health—a family of nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations dedicated to lowering health care costs to enable seniors to successfully age in place—in a $4.5 million research collaboration to create an innovative “Geriatric Emergency Department” (GED). The GED is designed with protocols, resources, and specialized care areas to optimize the acute care of older adults. While most hospitals implementing GEDs have been urban or larger academic medical centers, the D-HH/West Health collaboration will be the first in the nation to focus on a largely rural population.

“Improving the delivery of care in rural areas is one of the strategic imperatives for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, as we grow to meet the needs of patients around the region,” said D-HH CEO and President Joanne M. Conroy, MD. “With our strong programs and passionate providers in Emergency Medicine and Geriatrics, along with our dynamic Connected Care Center, we are uniquely qualified for the development of a rural telehealth model of geriatric emergency care that this collaboration will enable.”

“This is the perfect union,” says Shelley Lyford, president and chief executive officer of West Health. “Combining West Health’s experience in geriatric care with Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s pioneering work in telehealth and geriatrics will enable D-H to add geriatric emergency telecare to its already world-class telehealth portfolio. And seniors will be the beneficiaries of this important work.”

Over the course of the three-year research collaboration, the West Health Institute will contribute expertise and $3 million in capital to establish Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon (DHMC) as a center for geriatric emergency care. The collaboration will develop and implement protocols, resources, and specialized care areas within the Emergency Department at DHMC, all to optimize the acute care of older adults.

After DHMC earns accreditation from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) as a top-tier, Level 1 GED, its specialized services will be offered with DHMC as the “hub” to four “spoke” sites around the region through D-HH’s Center for Telehealth. D-HH has committed an additional $1.5 million to the overall project cost.

“Seniors who seek treatment in EDs are often highly complex patients with various medical and social issues that are challenging for any ED, and can be especially challenging for rural hospitals with fewer resources,” says Scott Rodi, MD, interim section chief and regional director of emergency medicine at DHMC. “This partnership with West Health will enable us to work with our rural colleagues to provide specialized, senior-specific care to more patients throughout the region. It’s another step forward in our vision to improve access to high-quality health care for all people, regardless of where they live.”

The largely rural setting of Northern New England offers unique obstacles to implementing improved acute care for the growing population of senior adults. Northern New England is one of the United States’ most rapidly aging regions, with Vermont and New Hampshire being the second- and third-oldest states, respectively, by median age. Older adults who live in poverty are significantly more likely to live in rural areas. Limited access to health services, workforce shortages, social isolation, and transportation problems are particularly severe in these remote regions. Caring for older adults in rural areas such as Northern New England requires innovation in geriatric emergency medicine.

Ultimately, this collaboration will evaluate the effectiveness and sustainability of using telemedicine to extend the reach of a GED to rural hospitals, and create opportunities to scale the concept to other rural facilities across Northern New England and throughout the country.

About Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health
DARTMOUTH-HITCHCOCK HEALTH (D-HH), New Hampshire’s only academic health system and the state’s largest private employer, serves a population of 1.9 million across Northern New England. D-H provides access to more than 2,400 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH. DHMC was named in 2019 as the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in 13 clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health also includes the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, one of only 51 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation; the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the state’s only children’s hospital; affiliated member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene, and New London, NH, and Windsor, VT, and Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and 24 Dartmouth-Hitchcock clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. The D-H system trains nearly 400 residents and fellows annually, and performs world-class research, in partnership with the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT.

About West Health and the West Health Institute
Solely funded by philanthropists Gary and Mary West, West Health is a family of nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations including the Gary and Mary West Foundation and Gary and Mary West Health Institute in San Diego, and the Gary and Mary West Health Policy Center in Washington, D.C. West Health is dedicated to lowering healthcare costs to enable seniors to successfully age in place with access to high-quality, affordable health and support services that preserve and protect their dignity, quality of life and independence. Learn more at westhealth.org and follow @westhealth.

Media Contacts:
Rick Adams, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health
(603) 653-1910
rick.adams@hitchcock.org

Tim Ingersoll, West Health
(858) 412-8727
tpingersoll@westhealth.org

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