WFBMC Opens Unique Aging Center

“It was very patient-centered and patient-focused before those were catchwords.”

That’s the way Paul McGann, MD, recalled the J. Paul Sticht Center on Aging and Rehabilitation when it opened in 1997, one of the first centers in the world to combine geriatric care, sub-acute care, rehabilitation, psychiatric care, comprehensive ambulatory geriatric assessment, geriatric primary care and research all under one roof.

Today, McGann is co-director of the Partnership for Patients and deputy chief medical officer for campaign leadership for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). The Partnership for Patients is a nationwide public-private initiative to improve the quality and safety of health care for all Americans by offering support to physicians, nurses, clinicians and other providers working in and out of hospitals. Its goal is to make patient care safer and to reduce readmissions to hospitals.

McGann was the Sticht Center’s first clinical director, joining the Medical Center in 1995 to help oversee the center’s design and launch. The Sticht Center was named in honor of Sticht, a former chairman of RJR Nabisco, who contributed $1.5 million of the $40 million cost.

Besides the unique combining of research with acute, ambulatory and psychiatric care, the new Sticht building offered innovations such as wide doorways for wheelchairs, oversized examination rooms, radiology view boxes in every room, and exam tables with electric pumps to raise and lower heights to prevent falls. All were designed, McGann said, to cater to frail elderly patients with “a heavy emphasis on multidisciplinary care.”

“Personally, I found it one of the most exciting times and experiences of my professional career,’’ McGann said. “It opened in April 1997. Those next two to three years were just unbelievably fulfilling. Just new things happening and new connections made that weren’t possible before because no facility had been built that allowed this many disciplines to come together. Here we were with this beautiful facility and all the professional training to run it.”

Culmination of a 10-Year Endeavour

The Center on Aging itself had begun 10 years earlier as a university-wide endeavor under the direction of William Hazzard, MD, the chairman of internal medicine, who’d been recruited from Johns Hopkins University. Hazzard was already nationally known for his gerontology work, having written the textbook Principles of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology.

In an oral history he gave to the Dorothy Carpenter Medical Archives in 1999, Hazzard recalled that J. Paul Sticht himself happened to call then Dean Richard Janeway while Hazzard was being interviewed for the position of chairman in 1985. In an indication of the financial support soon to come, Hazzard said, “He was very positive and he said geriatrics and aging are a high priority for me and they fit in with the medical center. …And he said ‘Are you going to come?’ and I said ‘Yes.’

A March 1998 article in the magazine Academic Medicine details how Hazzard said the course laid out by leaders here swayed him in his career decision. “My choice of Bowman Gray was heavily influenced by its leaders’ decision to allow gerontology and geriatrics to assume a central role in our academic ascendancy. … To leverage the resources and responsibilities as chairman of internal medicine in order to insinuate aging into the very DNA of the university has been to realize a dream.”

Legacy of the Sticht Center

McGann, who left the Sticht Center in 2002, said the lessons of the early days there serve him well in his role as a federal official working to reform the health care system.

“Better quality care costs less money. That’s one of these counterintuitive things that took us a long time to learn and study,’’ he said. “Better quality care is more efficient care, actually higher quality care. And that’s what we were striving to do at the Sticht Center as well.”

Even today, he said, the Sticht Center is addressing acute care, acute rehabilitation, psychiatric care and sub-acute care, and linking that care to the elderly in the community while incorporating research into aging issues.

“I think the Sticht Center is still leading, and remains well ahead of its time.”