Health Care

Just geriatrics: Senior care clinic opens at St. Joseph Medical Center

Senior Care clinic

St. Joseph Medical Center opened a new clinic this month that specializes in senior care.
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St. Joseph Medical Center opened a new clinic this month that specializes in senior care.

The population is aging, and St. Joseph Medical Center in south Kansas City is moving to take advantage of it by opening a new outpatient clinic that specializes in caring for seniors.

Sister Margaret’s Senior Clinic at 1010 Carondelet Drive has been taking patients since June 5 but will celebrate its official opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony from 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“Hospitals have their niche,” said Anne Xenos, the senior care manager for St. Joseph Medical Center and St. Mary’s Medical Center. “They specialize in one thing and do it well. We realized there’s really a need to specialize in senior care here at the hospital.”

In addition to the new outpatient clinic, St. Joseph is also revamping some emergency department and inpatient rooms to be more senior-friendly by offering things like hearing aids, large-print documents and more hand rails.

Kirk Sloan, St. Joseph’s chief medical officer, said the demographic shifts caused by the aging of baby boomers has created a business opportunity for medical facilities that cater to seniors.

“It’s a huge market, and no one is really trying to specialize in this,” Sloan said.

Senior-only emergency rooms are a slow-growing trend nationally, and there are other places locally that have set aside spaces for seniors.

The University of Kansas Health System’s Landon Center on Aging includes a senior care clinic similar to St. Joseph’s, and KU also has the region’s only Alzheimer’s Disease Center as designated by the National Institutes on Aging, a federal research agency.

On a national level, reimbursement realities have kept some hospitals from focusing on senior care. Most Americans over age 65 are on Medicare, and medical providers say the payment rates set by the federal government for that program don’t always cover their costs.

St. Joseph is owned by Prime Healthcare Services, a California-based for-profit chain. Sloan said the hospital had to prove to the parent company that the new clinic would be a good investment.

“That was part of our proposal when we first started this, is it would need to not be a loss for the hospital, and so far what we’ve found is it does indeed pay for itself,” Sloan said. “It seems it’s a sustainable model.”

Sloan said the challenge now is finding enough nurses and doctors who specialize in geriatrics, which is a severely understaffed field. The American Geriatrics Society said in 2013 that there were 7,500 certified geriatricians in the United States, and the country would need about 30,000 by 2030 to meet the recommended ratio of one for every 700 seniors.

“There’s not a whole lot of them out there,” Sloan said. “I think there’s going to be a lot more that we need in the future.”

Andy Marso: 816-234-4055, @andymarso