The ACE Unit (Acute Care for the Elderly) provides care for patients 70 years and older in a homelike environment. The approach is based on evidence-based research which shows that elderly patients who are cared for in such a setting have fewer incidents of hospital complications including delirium, decreased morbidity and mortality, improved function, cost savings, and shorter hospital stays.
UTMB Health opened its first 20-bed ACE Unit in 2000 in the John Sealy Hospital, supported generously by funding from the Sealy and Smith Foundation. In 2016, the unit was moved to a 16 bed unit in the beautiful new Jennie Sealy Hospital. Featuring stunning views of the island, coast and bay, every detail was optimized with the elder patient in mind. Consideration was given to lighting and wall color to help minimize “shadowing,” which can make a patient think he/she is falling. Flooring was chosen to minimize contrast and increase consistency, to reduce confusion and falls. Corridors feature extra handrails, soft surfaces protect against bumps and bruises, and marks on the floor allow patients to help keep track of steps and distance while getting needed activity and exercise.
Two areas of the unit are set aside as family/community space, intentionally placed at the end of the floor near the windows – overlooking beautiful vistas of the beach, gulf and bay – with comfortable seating arranged for easy conversation. Future plans will allow for community-style meals among patients.
In the ACE Unit, the nursing station is decentralized, with a central reception desk and nurses spread throughout the unit. There is a kitchen area where patients and family can get coffee and snacks. A large fish tank and a piano are part of the unit; volunteers play for the patients on a weekly basis. All patient rooms are furnished with fold-out sofa beds and the unit has shower areas for family members. The care team encourages family to stay and be involved in the care of their loved ones.
The ACE Unit is for patients 70 years of age and older with any variety of acute medical or surgical problems that do not require intensive care treatment. The unit also supports hospice and palliative care patients who need end of life care.
The unit is staffed with an interdisciplinary team which consists of geriatric nursing staff, geriatrician physicians and other medical specialists, case managers, physical and occupational therapists, dieticians and a pastor, all who have had training in the special needs of the elderly. The interdisciplinary team meets once a day to discuss each patient and to plan safe patient discharge. The nurse-to-patient ratio is one to four, and nurses are also supported by patient care technicians. Together, the ACE team focuses on safety, prevention of pressure ulcers, preservation of functionality, and safe discharge.