Kaiser Permanente’s geriatric surgery verification program recognized

Kaiser Permanente’s geriatric surgery verification program recognized
Photos contributed.

By Antonia Ehlers

At Kaiser Permanente Richmond, Oakland and Walnut Creek medical centers, geriatric patients have a holistic care team to care for their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.

All three of these hospitals recently received the Level 1 – Comprehensive Excellence Geriatric Surgery Verification (GSV) from the American College of Surgeons (ACS). The program improves surgical care and outcomes for patients 75 years and older by using evidence-based standards to ensure successful surgical outcomes. Kaiser Permanente Northern California now has four hospitals with the Geriatric Surgery Verification. In 2021, Kaiser Permanente Fresno became the second hospital in the nation to receive the recognition.

“The American College of Surgeons has a long history of encouraging the use of evidence-based best practices to improve care of patients who need surgery,” said Kaiser Permanente East Bay Senior Surgical Care Physician Director Aaron Baggs, MD. “Kaiser Permanente Oakland, Richmond and Walnut Creek have invested a tremendous amount of time and effort into improving our patients’ care before and after surgeries.”

For every surgery involving an elderly patient, a multi-disciplinary team discusses how the surgery will affect the patient’s overall quality of life. Patients undergoing elective surgeries are evaluated by geriatricians. High-risk patients are reviewed by a multi-specialty team of physicians who discuss vulnerabilities and make recommendations. However, final decisions are made by patients and their families.

“Frail, older individuals are more likely to have complications and they may have a different outlook on what matters most to them after a surgery,” said Kaiser Permanente East Bay Internal Medicine Physician Stephen Sarafian, MD. “The Geriatric Surgery Verification Program was designed to make the communication between surgeons and patients more focused on the goals of the individual – and not just the operations.”  

Geriatric-friendly patient rooms support elderly patients with their recovery. For example, special windows help them to tell the difference between day and night. Large clocks, non-slip floors, contrasting wall and floor colors, and handrails also help patients while they recover. Proper nutrition and hydration are extremely important, so the geriatric care team makes sure that patients are properly nourished before and after their surgeries.

“Older adults are a special population with unique and often complex needs – physiologically and socially,” said East Bay Geriatric Clinical Nurse Specialist Sara Cohen, MS, RN. “Sometimes, the best advances in geriatric health care don’t involve robotics or other technological progress, but [rather]the warmth of human connection and interdisciplinary teamwork.”

Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) are living longer than any generation before them. By the year 2050, senior citizens will represent 22% of the U.S. population. 

“The Senior Surgical Care Program at Kaiser Permanente is special because it breaks down some of the traditional silos of health care in order to provide our patients with the very best patient-centered care,” Cohen added. “We work together to identify the strengths of the patient and their support system, as well as their vulnerabilities. This holistic approach to health care is uniquely valuable.”

Kaiser Permanente Northern California has four of the eight hospitals nationwide to receive this verification and the only four hospitals in California with the designation.  Kaiser Permanente Northern California plans to have all 21 of its medical centers verified by ACS, and when this full rollout is completed, it will be the largest health system to adopt the standards.

This report was submitted for publication by Kaiser Permanente of Northern California.