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Davis Medical Center NICHE achieves ‘Senior Friendly’ status for excellent care of older adults

January 18, 2019

Elkins, W. Va. -Davis Medical Center has achieved "Senior Friendly" status for its NICHE program. NICHE, which stands for Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders, is a national designation that validates a hospital's commitment to excellence in the care of patients age 65 and older. DMC earned the NICHE designation in 2016. 

The Senior Friendly status – the second highest NICHE program level — was assigned following a rigorous self-evaluation of the current state and future goals of the program at DMC.

DMC is the first and only hospital in West Virginia to have achieved the Senior Friendly NICHE designation. DMC NICHE Coordinator, Kimberlee Haher, said much hard work went into achieving this designation and said the program was developed to help assure patients age 65 and older receive treatment that is geared toward their specific age group.

“When we first started the NICHE program at DMC, we put together a board which includes people from all facets of the hospital – nutrition, physical therapy, speech, pharmacy – and then developed a mission statement,” Haher said. “The board meets at least monthly.”

One of the big NICHE projects started at DMC was a nutritional support starter kit. Haher said the center received a grant to purchase equipment and the program’s thrust is to help seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

“We ordered specialized plates, plate guards, and cups and oversized eating utensils,” Haher said. “Our kitchen is supplied with these utensils. When we admit a patient who may have difficulty eating, it triggers an assessment by a NICHE certified nurse for possible needs in the program. After the evaluation, the kitchen is made aware so they can send up the equipment on the tray while the patient is in the hospital.”

Haher said there is also an optional finger food diet that allows the patient to use their hands to eat.

“Sometimes dementia patients don’t know what the utensils are for and finger foods allow the patient to eat,” she said.

“Once the patient is ready to go back home, they get a brand-new kit – fresh utensils to take home with them.”

Haher said the need for NICHE is obvious.

“More than 50 percent of our patients are over the age of 65. You would be surprised at the number of patients who are age 85 and older,” Haher said. “Each day in the United States, 10,000 people turn 65.”

Haher said she feels like the DMC Administration saw the need for its nurses to be prepared to care for seniors.

“I am shocked at the small amount of education nurses are getting in the geriatric area,” she said. “Geriatric patients are different. They are not the same as people age 30 to 60 – at 65 the body begins to change, things begin to slow down. People do not metabolize medication as well. Geriatric patients’ bodies are different and so are their brains, too, if we don’t keep them sharp.”

The NICHE program is not only beneficial to the patients – it also helps the nurses. NICHE provides ongoing education the nurses need. Haher said for nurses to become certified, they complete a 25.5 hour course. “There is a lot of information in that 25.5 hours. More than 90 percent of the RNs and LPNs have completed the training. The training for Patient Care Aides is 11.5 hours and 100 percent of the PCAs have completed that training.”

The first designation goal for the DMC NICHE program was to achieve its ‘Senior Friendly Status. “Then we will begin working on the Exemplar Status,” she said. “In order to complete this level, we must make a presentation at the National Conference and there is not another conference until 2020. We hope to make a presentation, implement other senior programs and achieve our goals to receive the Exemplar Status then.”

“I am so proud of our staff,” she said. “They have all been excited about NICHE and I hope to keep them excited about how important this is and the new things we can do and try.”

The NICHE program of the New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing provides resources for nursing and interdisciplinary teams to achieve organizational goals for the care of older adult patients.

For more information about NICHE, visit www.nicheprogram.org/.