The San Diego Union-Tribune: UC San Diego opens new senior-focused emergency unit

2 min
January 15, 2019

By Paul Sisson
January 14, 2019

There’s no sign notifying patients that they are entering the new Gary and Mary West Senior Emergency Care Unit, but it’s immediately obvious that something has changed.

Moving from the main emergency department at UC San Diego’s Jacobs Medical Center into the corridor that leads to the new unit, there is a noticeable drop in noise level and visitors are soon greeted by a wall-sized, full-color photograph of Torrey Pines State Beach.

Walls are painted in a contrasting two-tone color scheme. The lighting is softer with a variable intensity indexed electronically to the time of day outside.

The unit’s 11 exam rooms continue the design theme with large local beach photos consuming a full wall of each single-occupant suite. In addition to beds, there are thickly-padded chairs that look like medical recliners and are capable of elevating their occupants to standing position or lowering them to take a load off.

Overall, the feel is slightly upscale, like this is the unit around the corner for the VIPs that the regular folks never get to know about.

But admission to this tucked-away wing has nothing to do with who you know.

Age is the main criteria for landing one of these rooms. Beds are reserved for those age 65 and older. Answers to a series of five questions designed to gauge likelihood memory loss, fall risk and other geriatric issues also play into who gets escorted back and who stays in the main emergency department.

On a recent morning, Frank Staffiero of San Diego was resting in one of the unit’s beds. As a former UCSD financial services employee, the 68-year-old said he knows what Thornton’s old emergency room was like and quickly picked up on the differences in the new space.

“This just is a lot friendlier to the eye, a lot quieter,” Staffiero said. “It doesn’t look like it’s in a hospital. It looks like we’re in a nice office building.”

Built in the left-over empty space created when Thornton Hospital’s medical testing laboratory moved to adjacent Jacobs, the unit is funded by a $12 million grant from the Gary and Mary West Foundation.