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Martha Stewart Takes on Health Care

The domestic doyenne dishes about the opening of her visionary medical center for seniors, her own health challenges, and the lessons learned while coping with the loss of her mom.

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Funded by a $5 million donation from Stewart and dedicated to her mom, the center, with its bonsai tree symbol and Stewart design touches, feels more like an upscale spa than the depressing, fluorescent-lit outpatient clinics most seniors visit. The 7,800-square-foot facility houses a staff of 20 geriatric specialists, social workers, an integrated wellness program, and a memory evaluation clinic.

Other specialists, including cardiologists, nephrologists, rheumatologists, and psychiatrists, are available onsite and can be consulted as needed -- eliminating multiple trips to different offices. (Care is covered by most insurance plans.) And the medical center's patients can take an active role in their own health and wellness, participating in activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, yoga, tai chi, and nutrition programs.

"We wanted to create a place that feels good, that treats you nicely, that makes you think somebody cares about your experience there," says Stewart.

Senior Care in America

Stewart's right about the need for coordinated senior care, says Knight Steel, MD, a pioneer in geriatric medicine who now heads the division of geriatrics at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. We all could benefit from having our doctors under one roof -- but the elderly have the most to gain from coordinated care. "There are issues related to aging per se, and then there are issues related to diseases and organ systems, so you need a cardiologist, a neurologist, a pulmonologist, and so on. It's clearly best to have a place where you can be managed comprehensively, rather than having care fragmented at different locations and practices," he says.

Stewart learned about this issue firsthand while helping care for her mother. "My mom went to four, five, six different doctors, and she wasn't always totally open about what medications she was taking, or not taking," she says.

The more medications a senior takes, and the more doctors prescribing them, the greater the opportunity for error -- for example, prescribing medications that have dangerous interactions. More than half of fatal hospital medication errors involved seniors, according to a 2004 report in U.S. Pharmacist. "That's the value of a senior center with excellent geriatricians who look at a person's health in a comprehensive way, rather than having them diagnose and prescribe independently," says Steel.

Ultimately, Stewart hopes the new center at Mount Sinai will serve as a model for similar geriatric centers across the country. She's working with Brent Ridge, MD, her company's vice president for healthy living -- they first met when Ridge, then a Mount Sinai geriatrician, approached her with the idea for the center -- to make that happen. "We want to show other hospitals across the country how they can go about creating the same kind of excellent program, where the aging population can be taken care of well," she says.

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