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Weiss Memorial Hospital Opens New Specialized Geriatric Unit

Sep 18, 2008

Contact: Catherine Gianaro
(773) 564-7285

New specialized geriatric unitWeiss Memorial Hospital unveiled its new in-patient geriatric unit to raucous applause from community members, volunteers, physicians, nurses and other hospital employees on Thursday evening, Sept. 18. “This is an exciting day for Weiss,” said CEO Frank Molinaro, addressing the crowd in the Leiland Lobby. “Geriatrics is the first program we’ve built from the ground up.”

More than 90,000 seniors live within a five-mile radius of Weiss, and within the next five years that population is expected to grow by 6 percent. Weiss already offers seniors a plethora of care opportunities through the Weiss Initiative Supporting Elders (W.I.S.E.)—a program geared toward seniors’ special needs that encourages them to stay healthy and active, providing free screenings and educational and exercise classes. However, about two years ago, leaders throughout the hospital decided that those seniors needed a specialized unit dedicated to their specific care. 

The unit caters to patients over the age of 65. It includes physicians, physical therapists, social workers and nurses—all of whom specialize in the care of older people. Caren Perlmuter, geriatric service line director, explained that the unit is necessary because older people require much different care than younger people. Their problems typically involve multiple health issues, and they are generally more at risk for further complications and post-discharge issues that need to be anticipated.

Development of the geriatric unit involved people from across disciplines within the hospital. They went out into the community, asked what the seniors who would potentially use the hospital needed, and worked together to respond to those needs. In the year before the unit opened, Patrick Loney, director of geriatrics clinical services, was one of the people involved in helping Perlmuter draft a specialized staff.

The unit is much more than just an in-patient program, Molinaro said in his speech. It involves the entire community through educational outreach and volunteerism. Behind him, a projector flashed photographs of the new unit, of patients smiling beside nurses and staff, and of volunteers like Ranger, the pet therapy Collie dog, and his owner, retired Chicago police officer Terry Tauber.

As wine flowed and servers passed through the crowd offering hors d’oeuvres, Martin Siglin, M.D., vice president of medical affairs, presented flower bouquets to two of the clinicians most involved in the program’s set-up—psychologist Deirdre Tannen, Ph.D., and physiatrist Monica Jaworowicz, M.D.

When the speeches ended, representatives led tours around the unit—5NW.

“I am grateful for the teamwork of the doctors and staff that brought us to this day,” Perlmuter said of the program’s development. She and her team developed what their patients needed, using “the expertise of those experienced in geriatric care.”

Loney told the audience, “This is a work in progress.” The unit’s roots are its community, he added, and “we need to continue to understand what our community needs. We can only do that if we continue to ask them.”

Dheeraj Mahajan, M.D., medical director of the geriatrics service line, heads the unit. “They just wanted a cute face to run it, so they hired me,” he said jokingly about how he became involved in the program at Weiss. He said the program is already popular and the hospital consensus shows its success.

Perlmuter said the 34-bed unit is successful because “we care for the whole person and meet the needs of this senior population.”

Above picture: Dr. Dheeraj Mahajan and Weiss CEO Frank Molinaro cut the ribbon for 5NW during the official opening of the geriatrics floor.