Saturday, February 28, 2009

Oops, Lost Again

I had to go see a client in the hospital earlier this week, and even for me it was a somewhat daunting experience. The hospital is in Dallas, and it's large. Now on this particular trip I did go right to the hospital, thanks to my GPS. In the past I can see it; it's really big, then I can't see it, turn down a one way street; oh, there it is, but it's behind me, I have to turn, finally there! So, anyway, I got there without incident this week.

It's a large complex, with multiple buildings, but I did at least know which building I was going to. I actually found a parking lot, with empty spaces, right across the street. The signs to the parking lot were OK, not great. My big issue was with the signs at street level. Why do they put the names of buildings 40 feet up on the top or side of the building? OK, I know it's so you can see it from the car, but what about when you are on the sidewalk? While I knew I was right across the street from the correct building, the only entrance that looked promising had a big sign that said "Physician Referral Service Only/No Hospital Entrance", so I kept walking. The next building was definitely not the building I needed (signage 40 feet up, but readable), so I backtracked, and went in the Physician Referral door to ask how to get to the hospital. Well, guess what? In the foyer of the Physician Referral office was an elevator guessed it...the Hospital!

I found my client fairly easily from there, although once I got to the unit, which seemed circular in design, there were no signs at the entrance to tell which way the numbering went, so I pretty much made the circle looking for the room.

On the way in, I had observed that there was a skywalk from the hospital to the building across the street, which was adjacent to the parking lot where I had parked. In the elevator the floor with the skywalk was labeled, so I decided to go that way. Big mistake. I got off on the right floor, saw a sign with an arrow to the skywalk--but then never saw another sign and never found the skywalk. I could see it....Anyway, I walked from one area that was clearly patient rooms, then into an area that looked like it should be off limits to the likes of me. All gray walls and office doors and people in lab coats, but no one stopped me, and then ahead I saw more patient rooms, so I just kept going. I finally found some more elevators, got to the ground floor and out of the building, and saw I was on the other side of the building. So I had to go back in, go through the lobby, then finally out the way I came in.

As I was doing all this traipsing around, I kept thinking about my client's 80-something year old husband, who takes himself there every day to be with his wife. I'm sure he parks in the same place every day and follows the route that he knows will get him to his wife. But what if that parking lot is full? What if that particular elevator is out of service? What if they move her? I'm pretty comfortable wandering around hospitals, and I can read small, ambiguous signs and usally figure them out, but not every 65 year old, or 85 year old can. I only had one hospital employee ask me if I needed help, even though I passed dozens.

It's not just the emergency room that needs to be redesigned to accommodate older adults. Hospitals are often huge complexes, with remote parking lots, and as our population continues to age, they are going to have to be more proactive in serving this older population. I didn't see much being done about it when I worked in hospitals, and I don't see much evidence of it now when I go to hospitals.

In a few weeks I'm going with some friends and colleagues to Las Vegas, where we are doing a presentation at the American Society on Aging conference. We are going to teach people how to teach age sensitivity to others. This is just a first step. I hope some of you will consider joining me on this trip toward better accessibility for everyone.

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