UC San Diego Health has opened a new senior emergency department, complete with a team trained in geriatric medicine and senior-friendly architectural design.

The Gary and Mary West Emergency Department at UC San Diego Health in La Jolla is California’s first accredited geriatric emergency department.

While a typical emergency room can be noisy, crowded and have harsh light, the new facility features calibrated lighting, sound-absorbing walls as part of improved acoustics and contrasting colors between walls and floors to reduce fall risk. The senior-friendly design runs from the patient rooms to the waiting room.

“Senior patients face common complications, such as being at a high risk for falls and cognitive and memory problems. All patients in the SECU are treated by a team with special training in geriatric medicine, including pharmacists to manage medications and social workers to ensure a smooth transition home upon discharge,” said Dr. Ted Chain, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UC San Diego Health.

The health system is at the fore of senior-focused emergency departments, as covered last year by the San Diego Business Journal. The movement, mindful of the aging population, seeks to improve care, as well as save hospitals money through reduced readmissions.

More than 21.3 million patients over the age of 65 were treated in emergency rooms in 2015, according to the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, versus about 16 million in 2001. The figure is anticipated to continue rising.

The accreditation from the American College of Emergency Physicians requires hospital emergency departments to have both physicians and nurses on staff with specialized geriatric training, among other stipulations.

While the Gary and Mary West Emergency Department just opened, specialized geriatric care has been available at UC San Diego Health in La Jolla since the hospital debuted in 2016.

Philanthropists Gary and Mary West provided an $11.8 million grant through their foundation to UC San Diego Health to help create the emergency department.