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‘ACEing’ the aging experience with philanthropic support

September 10, 2018

The Acute Care for Elders (ACE) Unit at Baystate Medical Center softly pulses with the soundtracks of patients’ lives – the Big Band sound, doo-wop, Motown, and ‘70s pop – along with occasional notes of jazz and opera. Except between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am – when anything that might disrupt sleep is forbidden.

Destination: Home

Baystate Health’s ACE Unit is a life-changing care environment designed especially for people coping with the challenges of aging. Patients are at the center of an interdisciplinary system of care provided by nurses, therapists, and other professionals – including geriatricians, on-site pharmacists and other specialists.

Most patients are up and about – practicing everyday tasks, walking with staff members who work as designated “mobility associates” and even dancing to their favorite tunes. These activities are core elements of patients’ care plans, designed to help them live safely and independently in the community.

“Our ultimate goal is to discharge patients – to their own homes, whenever possible – in optimal states of physical and mental health,” explains Dr. Andrew Artenstein, Baystate Health’s chief physician executive and chief academic officer.

“That means preserving and restoring cognitive and ambulatory function – and addressing any other factors that might leave them vulnerable to falls or threaten their health or independence in other ways – while treating the specific condition or conditions that led to their hospitalization.”

Support on life’s journey

“Older adults often decline while they’re in the hospital,” notes Dr. Maura Brennan, chief of the Geriatrics and Post-Acute Medicine Division. “This care model is designed to prevent that decline.”

Delirium is surprisingly common among hospitalized older patients – even among people who are not coping with dementia, notes ACE Medical Director Dr. Erin Leahy. “Many factors, including disrupted sleep, minor infections, combinations of certain medicines, relocation and other major life changes – and, after admission, even just the unfamiliar surroundings of the hospital – can quickly lead to disorientation and delirium,” she explains. “That’s why we protect the overnight hours – refraining from blood draws and other interruptions unless absolutely necessary – and why we evaluate and sometimes recalibrate our patients’ prescriptions during their time on the unit.”

For people approaching the end of life, adds Brennan, the ACE team emphasizes spiritual support, effective pain management, and helping patients and families understand what’s ahead and choose the post-acute care options that are best for them.

Sharing the ACE model through philanthropy

The ACE model of care is in place in leading hospitals nationwide, and a growing body of research is revealing its efficacy. Lengths of stay in the hospital are shorter. And more people are going home, rather than to a skilled nursing facility, after discharge. Baystate Medical Center’s ACE Unit is one of only a handful currently operating in Massachusetts. Our vision is to advance its holistic care model – throughout the hospitals and clinical programs.

Philanthropy will play a key role in making that possible, says Artenstein. “Establishing an ACE Unit requires a significant investment, including intensified investment in clinical talent,” Artenstein explains. “The only way to accelerate development of these dedicated patient care units, staffed by specialized, interdisciplinary teams, is through charitable donations.”

Pioneer Valley Credit Union supports ACE care

Earlier this year, Pioneer Valley Credit Union (PVCU) joined many individual donors in supporting Baystate’s ACE Unit.

"Baystate Health has established a nationally recognized geriatric care model to support our aging community, and we are happy to support this high-quality, compassionate care,” said President and CEO Anabela Grenier. “Many PVCU members are elderly, and we’re proud to provide programs that empower them to be financially stable in their senior years. Through its ACE Unit, Baystate Medical Center also empowers our elderly community to stay healthy and as independent as possible.”

The needs and experiences of the ACE Unit’s patients are universal, notes Artenstein. “Our society is aging, and we all know someone who needs – or will need – this kind of care. Many of us will need it ourselves someday. And many of us have taken care of our aging parents. We welcome the opportunity to partner with our community to bring these services to as many people as possible throughout Baystate Health.”

Learn more about how you can support the Baystate Health Acute Care for Elders Unit.