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Women's Health

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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.

Senior Care in America continued...

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.

"Being healthy is all about being prepared," agrees Ridge. "Our health care system is not prepared, and the vast majority of individuals are not prepared. Having someone with Martha's clout and her ability to speak will raise awareness of this issue. Just like they look to Martha for planning other aspects of their lives, we think they'll look to her for this aspect as well."

Steel, for one, hopes Stewart can bring these issues to the forefront -- because he sees a tidal wave coming. By 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 87 million people in the United States will be older than 65 -- more than 20% of the projected population. "I can tell you that American geriatric medicine has gargantuan problems," Steel says. "There's too much expensive hospital care, and there needs to be more care at home. But unless we have places like Stewart's center that can make good outpatient care for seniors possible -- and good geriatricians to provide it -- there will be a serious crisis in geriatric care."

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