UTHCT’s Center for Healthy Aging offers seniors health care tailored to their needs

Friday, October 28, 2005

As more and more people retire in East Texas, the Center for Healthy Aging at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler offers them specialized health and wellness care that fits their needs.

About 25 percent of the households in East Texas have at least one person who is over age 65. At UTHSCT, 55 percent of all inpatients are over age 65. And UTHSCT medical professionals participate in more than 70,000 patient encounters with seniors each year.

"We face several challenges in providing care for older East Texans," said Kent Davis, MD, director of the Center for Healthy Aging. "A huge population shift is under way, with people over 65 now the fastest growing segment of the population. Yet East Texas nursing homes rate below average in state measures of the quality of care these nursing homes offer. In addition, access to health care workers who are skilled in caring for older patients is very limited."

UT Health Science Center has stepped forward to address these issues. Geriatrics, the branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and problems that afflict older people, is part of UTHSCT’s strategic plan. In 2003, the Health Center received legislative and state approval to establish the East Texas Center for Rural Geriatric Studies, now the Center for Healthy Aging. Because of this designation as a rural geriatric center, UTHSCT now is applying for federal research grants in areas of medicine that concern older people.

Many older East Texans have difficulty obtaining the medicines they need, said Dr. Davis, who is board certified in internal medicine with an added qualification in geriatric medicine. They may be isolated in sparsely populated rural areas. Older East Texans may lack reasonably priced, dependable transportation to doctors’ appointments or grocery stores. And they may live on a fixed income and be without crucial financial resources, he said.

UTHSCT President Dr. Kirk A. Calhoun said, "Seventy-seven percent of the counties served by UT Health Science Center are classified as medically underserved, and 59 percent of East Texans who are 65 years of age or older are at or below the poverty line. No group of East Texas citizens is more at risk than our frail elderly."

The Center is a comprehensive approach to wellness that brings together physicians, programs, and services dedicated to patients’ continuing health, as well as the health of mature adults throughout East Texas. The Senior Assessment Center opened in January 2004 and provides a centralized, team approach to assess seniors’ health care needs with a focus on improving the health of the frail elderly. Also planned are:

  • An Acute Care for the Elderly, or ACE, unit;
  • A Geriatric Fellowship Program, to offer physicians advanced training in geriatrics; and
  • Continuing biomedical and clinical research into diseases that affect the aging process.

The Center focuses on five key areas of expertise: clinical service, public health and outreach, public policy and advocacy, education, and research. Older patients who see UTHSCT physicians in the Riter Center may use free valet parking.

Dr. Davis and other UTHSCT professionals have helped form the East Texas Coalition of Geriatric Professionals. The group of nursing home administrators, medical professionals who treat older people, and government and private agencies that serve seniors meets monthly to discuss issues that affect older East Texans.

Another aspect of the Center for Healthy Aging is the Ornelas Activity Center, located across the street from The University of Texas at Tyler. The Ornelas

Activity Center is a 23,000 square-foot facility at 3402 Old Omen Road in Tyler. The facility, located on 22.5 acres of land, has a large auditorium with a stage, as well as numerous smaller meeting rooms. UTHSCT has operated the Ornelas Activity Center since a partnership was formed between the Tyler Area Senior Citizens Association (TASCA) and UTHSCT in October 2004.

"One of our goals is to partner with the seniors of East Texas to help maintain and improve their health and function and to help them live healthy and active lives for as long as possible," Dr. Davis said.

For more information about the Center for Healthy Aging or the Health Center, call (903) 877-5122.

NOTICE: Protected health information is subject to electronic disclosure.