Emergency nurses preparing for the rise in visits by baby boomers

Cheryl Portner, RN

Cheryl Portner, RN

By Cheryl Portner, RN, MSN
Vice President, Staff Development & Training; Nurse Executive

Yes, I’m a baby boomer; it’s something that has defined my place in our generational society all my life. And recently, like many other boomers, I had a visit to the ED. I’ve had a few episodes of back pain over the years, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when one of my herniated discs decided to act up last New Year’s Eve. I was shopping at an AT&T store for the new iPhone 5s for my daughters. I had just leaned forward and twisted a bit when I was overcome by sudden pain and numbness that shot down both legs. I felt as if it was going to knock me to the floor.

As I hung onto the display case for dear life, the kind folks at AT&T brought me a chair and a glass of water. They wanted to call an ambulance, but being the strong person (and nurse) that I am, I smiled and replied through the pain and my clenched teeth, “Oh no, dear, that won’t be necessary.” The store’s staff was amazing; I sat there and closed the deal on the phones, wanting — like most boomers — to finish the business at hand quickly. Afterward, I relented and let my daughter drive me to the ED. So, aside from severe back pain, what might bring baby boomers to a hospital ED and how can we better serve and care for them while they’re there?

Some healthcare organizations are taking steps to design and create specialized “senior” EDs that can help fill the needs of baby boomers as they age and increase their use of healthcare services. Some community hospitals in Chicago that serve a high population of baby boomers say these patients often present complaints such as chest pain, abdominal pain, falls and injuries. Baby boomers work longer and are staying active longer than previous generations, but many of them also are in denial about the fact that they don’t have the youthful resilience they used to have. So injuries will happen; backs will act up, heart disease may appear and ED visits for this age group are likely to continue to rise. When this knowledgeable, enlightened, educated and health-savvy group visits the ED, their expectations may be higher than those of some seniors in the past.

To better serve them and provide them with quality care and better treatment methods may require more creativity. The ED I visited triaged me to their fast track, where I was examined, scanned, treated and able to walk out with my daughter in a couple of hours. I was home in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve and reflect on the timely, quality and appropriate care I had received from the talented, committed and wonderful professionals at my local ED.

Continuing Education Resources:

A Valid‚ Reliable Triage System Can Help You Better Assess ED Patients’ Acuity

A Nurse’s Guide to Pain Management

Coping with Nonurgent Patients in the ED

The Geriatric Health CE Anthology, 2013 Edition

Emergency Nursing Certification Test Prep (CEN)

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