How Will Clinic Closings Worsen Minnesota’s Shortage of Geriatric Specialists?

How Will Clinic Closings Worsen Minnesota’s Shortage of Geriatric Specialists?

Hennepin Healthcare has informed roughly 700 patients in Minneapolis receiving care at its Augustana and Parkside senior care clinics that it will be closing at the end of February.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune’s recent article entitled “Clinic closings will worsen Minnesota’s shortage of geriatric specialists” reports that patients who want to stay with Hennepin Healthcare, which operates HCMC (the big public hospital in downtown Minneapolis) can transition to one of its eight neighborhood clinics or to its large, new clinic and specialty care center in downtown.

The U.S. has fewer than 7,000 geriatricians (of whom about half are full time), and we’ll need 33,200 of these specialists by 2025 to keep pace with rising demand, according to a 2017 federal study. More than half of Minnesota’s counties don’t have any certified geriatricians, according to the state association of geriatricians.

Geriatric clinics play an important part in treating the many complex ailments and disabilities associated with aging. Elderly patients often have multiple chronic conditions, such as memory loss, macular degeneration and heart disease. This means that physicians working with the elderly must understand and monitor how various medications interact. Research shows that geriatricians generate savings over time, by reducing costly hospitalizations and stays in skilled nursing facilities.

Geriatricians “are trained to be attuned to elders’ wishes and preferences, and to see care from more of a holistic perspective,” said Eilon Caspi, a gerontologist and adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota’s School of Nursing. “These closings will almost certainly create instability for hundreds of people with complex health conditions.”

Dr. John Cumming, interim CEO at Hennepin Healthcare, commented that the clinic closings are part of a broader restructuring designed to achieve cost savings. However, he noted that they don’t reflect a pullback from overall senior medical care. The geriatricians and interdisciplinary teams that worked in the clinics will have the opportunity to work in other locations in the county-run system and their services will continue in more modern facilities.

The system will also continue to provide geriatric care to patients living in about 20 nursing homes in the Twin Cities through its extended care program. The hospital system also will maintain home nursing services for seniors through its provider, MVNA, and hospice care for people diagnosed with terminal illnesses.

“We are absolutely 100% committed to continuing to provide services to the seniors in our community,” Cumming said. “I completely understand that this is a vulnerable and a fragile patient population and we do need to do this very, very carefully.”

Minnesota has 146 certified geriatricians, but they’re spread across a variety of settings, like nursing homes. This means there are many parts of the state, where geriatric services aren’t available to seniors who live at home.

Reference: Star Tribune (Jan. 12, 2020) “Clinic closings will worsen Minnesota’s shortage of geriatric specialists”