PATERSON, NJ - The New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA) presented St. Joseph’s Healthcare System with a 2013 HRET Community Service Award for its Age Wise program. The award was presented at NJHA’s 94th Annual Meeting held earlier this year in Princeton. Each year, the NJHA and its Health Research and Educational Trust of New Jersey (HRET) recognize organizations that identify community needs and implement programs to serve those needs.

“St. Joseph’s is truly honored to receive a New Jersey Hospital Association Health Research and Educational Trust Community Service Award. Our Age Wise program, this year’s award recipient for improving end of life care, brings our inter-generational nurses together in a mutually supportive environment that allows us to provide improved geropalliative care for our geriatric patients at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center,” said Maria Brennan, DNPc, RN, CPHQ, Chief Nursing Officer, SJHS, and Vice President, Patient Care Services, SJRMC. “Only three hospitals in the state received HRET Community Outreach Awards this year and St. Joseph’s is proud to stand among them,” she added.

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The current increase in our aging population along with an aging nursing workforce was the impetus for the development of the AgeWise program at SJRMC. This innovative approach was originally created by Massachusetts General Hospital, where staff engaged in a multigenerational nurse residency program in geropalliative care, a concept that fosters improved care to the older adult in their last 2 to 5 years of life.

The St. Joseph’s Nursing team applied for and was selected to participate in Mass General’s geropalliative nursing program along with five other leading hospitals geographically distributed across the United States that are NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) and Magnet designated, and able to provide ELNEC (End-of-Life Nursing Education Consortium)/Palliative Care education. These include Nebraska Methodist, Omaha, NE; NYU Langone Medical Center, NYC; Sanford USD Medical Center, Sioux Falls, SD; University Hospital’s Case Medical Center, Cleveland, OH; and University of Rochester Medical Center Strong Memorial Hospital, Rochester, NY. Staff at these hospitals collaborate with the St. Joseph’s team, sharing innovative ideas, barriers, change projects, and experiences.

“St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center Age Wise Program focused on 3 medical surgical units which included a 38-bed Geriatric Unit, a 36-bed Infectious Disease Unit, and a 30-bed Oncology Unit. A total of 31 staff nurses participated in a 12-week residency program consisting of senior nurses whom we define as age 45 plus, having about 20 years of registered nursing experience, and junior nurses whom we defined as having two to five years of registered nursing experience,” said Roberta Vitcusky, MSN, APN, ACHPN, Palliative Care Advance Practice Nurse, SJHS.

“The 31 participating staff nurses were paired in ‘care dyads’ - senior nurses serving as mentors and coaches to junior nurses. Together, advancing their individual practices and their unit’s patient care to the next level,” added Karen Keaney, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, CWOCN, Wound and Ostomy Care Specialist and NICHE Program Coordinator, SJRMC.

Age Wise has been very successful at St. Joseph’s. The primary outcomes realized include improved care of our older adult population who require palliative care; all nursing units have adopted a form of an “End-of-Life Ritual” caring for the dying patient and their family; a decrease in patient falls; and enhanced communication and collaboration with the HIV/AIDS Clinic where patients are better prepared to plan for their future needs.

“The overall purpose of the Age Wise program is to provide professional development to practicing nurses in geropalliative care,” noted Maria Brennan. “This innovative program is designed to advance the care of older hospitalized adults by nurses who are competent, proficient and expert nurses.”

Combined funding for Age Wise was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and AARP.