Oakbend Medical Center’s Ace Unit Reopens Providing Excellent Care For Elderly Patients

Dr. Gildardo Ceballos and OakBend Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Joe Freudenberger.

BRAZOS Cover Story | By Tanya Sterling Photos by Kelley Sweet Photography –

OakBend Medical Center’s Jack and Billie Wendt Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) Unit has officially reopened its doors, ushering in a new sense of normalcy to the healthcare facility. The ACE Unit, specially designed to cater to the unique needs of elderly patients, is dedicated to providing exceptional care while promoting a home-like atmosphere and involving families in the care process. With a multidisciplinary approach that includes a team of experts, including physical therapists, nurses, dieticians, pharmacists and physicians, our ACE Unit aims to create a care environment that enhances mobility and independence, reduces hospital length of stay, reduces readmissions, optimizes overall well-being and ensures patient comfort and dignity.

A Legacy Serving Fort Bend’s Elderly

As it reopens, the ACE Unit carries on its legacy of operating with specific goals in mind, all centered around improving the quality of life for elderly patients. OakBend’s ACE Unit strives to counteract functional decline and immobility, two common challenges faced by seniors in hospital settings. Additionally, the ACE team is dedicated to preventing or reducing falls, skin breakdown and delirium, which can greatly impact the health and recovery of elderly patients. By prioritizing patient safety and timely discharges to home, our ACE Unit provides a care approach that strategically addresses the unique needs of older adults.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of OakBend Medical Center, Joe Freudenberger, reminisces about the genesis of the unit.

“We were doing some research on the approach to improve hospital care for the elderly and found some persuasive research suggesting that shorter lengths of stay helps all patients, but especially the elderly, lose less functional capacity. In lay terms, when you lay around in bed, your muscles weaken, and that includes your heart and lungs. Getting folks to walk, engage in activities and socialize helps mitigate some of the loss of capacity that comes from being hospitalized,” said Freudenberger. “There are actually nursing protocols developed at a number of institutions, most notably Harvard Medical School, called Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders (NICHE) protocols, which guide us in this model of care.”

Personalized Treatment Plans

Dr. Gildardo Ceballos.

The newly reopened unit’s approach enables patients to benefit from personalized treatment plans, which are regularly evaluated and adjusted by the healthcare team to meet the patient’s evolving needs.

Our ACE Unit care team is led by Dr. Gildardo Ceballos, a board-certified Internal Medicine specialist, whose excellence as a physician is only matched by his compassion. Fluent in both English and Spanish, Dr. Ceballos provides comprehensive care to patients aged 18 and older in both outpatient and hospital settings. He, along with his wife and son, are proud residents of Fort Bend County.

“When elderly patients first arrive at our Acute Care for the Elderly Unit, they may be experiencing an acute illness, injury or exacerbation of chronic conditions. It’s important to recognize that every patient’s situation is unique, and some individuals may experience limitations in their recovery due to the nature of their conditions or other factors,” said Dr. Ceballos as he reflected on how he and his team approach each patient’s care upon entering and exiting the unit. “Additionally, the support and resources available in the Acute Care for the Elderly Unit setting has been shown to influence the patient’s outcome for the better.  The ACE unit does many positive things for the patient, and one of those is the marked difference in dignity and independence between their arrival and departure from our ACE Unit, a difference that makes a far bigger impact than one might realize to the recovery of the patient.”

Designed Specifically for the Elderly

The physical therapy area in the Jack and Billie Wendt Acute Care for the Elderly Unit.

Fall prevention is a top priority in ACE units, and the design of OakBend’s  ACE Unit reflects this commitment. Handrails are strategically placed throughout the unit, and non-skid flooring surfaces help prevent falls. The unit is equipped with senior-friendly  features, including elevated toilets, grab bars, emergency pulls in bathrooms and large, easily readable clocks and signage. The beds are lower and designed for increased mobility, while night lights ensure patient safety. For those requiring extra supervision, video monitoring is available, and thicker mattresses help prevent pressure ulcers.

Creating a warm and welcoming environment is crucial as the ACE Unit reopens, and its physical space contributes to patient comfort and well-being. The OakBend ACE Unit achieves this by incorporating a home-like ambiance with modern furnishings, indirect lighting, classical music, a comfortable family gathering area with large fish tanks and a peaceful atmosphere. The unit also offers opportunities for socialization through a communal dining room, where patients can enjoy three meals a day while interacting with fellow patients and visiting family members.

Physical therapy plays a vital role in the recovery process for elderly patients.  Patients are encouraged to walk at least twice daily, and physical therapy sessions are available both in group settings and one-on-one. These sessions take place in an open common area, allowing families to actively participate and support their loved ones during their rehabilitation.

“On a personal level,” said Freudenberger, “my father was hospitalized a few times in our ACE Unit, and I saw firsthand the benefits of the model.”

Medication education is another essential aspect as many elderly patients take multiple prescribed medications. The medical team and pharmacists collaborate and review each patient’s medication list, ensuring the prevention of harmful drug interactions. Educating patients about their medications enhances their understanding and enables them to avoid any complications associated with their treatment.

An Engaging, Communal Environment Promoting Healing

The home-like ambience of the OakBend ACE Unit offers a comfortable family gathering area for socialization.

The physical environment of the ACE Unit distinguishes it from other units. The unit features non-glare wood-look flooring, modern furnishings, handrails, indirect lighting and a warm, non-institutional color palette. The open floor plan fosters interaction between patients, their families and clinical caregivers. A lower nurse’s station facilitates better communication and engagement.

Patients experience numerous benefits that enhance their recovery process in the ACE Unit. Ambulation, or the ability to walk independently, plays a crucial role in their rehabilitation journey. With multiple physical therapy sessions, including group exercises in the common area, admitted patients have the opportunity to improve their mobility and interact with others.

Staying physically active and socially connected is essential for individuals of all ages, especially for older adults. Regular physical activity benefits the heart, aids in weight loss and helps alleviate chronic pain. Strength and resistance training can also improve bone and muscle strength, counteracting the effects of frailty often associated with aging. Additionally, maintaining social connections has a positive and significant impact on seniors’ overall wellness. Thus, for seniors undergoing surgery or hospitalization, seeking treatment at a facility that encourages social interaction is crucial.

Eleojo Oyebode, RN and Ruizine Garcia, RN at the ACE Unit’s Nursing Station.

“On a personal level,” said Dr. Ceballos, “these items make me the most satisfied with the existence of the ACE Unit:  Improved patient care that enhances patient outcomes and quality of life and that offers medical professionals, such as myself, an opportunity to use a multidisciplinary approach to patient care that includes more comprehensive and holistic practices.”

The OakBend Medical Center ACE Unit partly owes its existence and ongoing enhancements to the generosity of the late philanthropist and community leader Billie Wendt. Mrs. Wendt, who served as a life member on the Polly Ryon Hospital Board of Trustees, made significant contributions to Fort Bend County, including OakBend Medical Center. In recognition of her and her late husband’s lifelong support, the ACE Unit was renamed the Jack and Billie Wendt Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) Unit in 2016. This honor reflects their past commitment to the community and their dedication to providing excellent healthcare for the elderly.

OakBend Medical Center is proud to offer a NICHE facility and is the only ACE Unit in Fort Bend County. For more information or to contact the newly reopened ACE Unit at OakBend Medical Center, please call 281.341.3000 or visit https://oakbendmedcenter.org/ace-unit.

Five Tips for Navigating Senior Care

Caring for the elderly can be rewarding yet challenging. Here are five valuable tips to navigating senior care.

1Communication is key: Maintain open lines with loved ones, healthcare professionals and support networks. Listen, address concerns and involve them in decision-making.

2Promote a safe environment: Ensure a hazard-free living space by removing dangers, installing handrails, lighting and non-slip mats. Regularly assess and modify their home.

3Encourage healthy habits: Foster exercise, balanced diet, hydration and mental stimulation through activities, hobbies and social engagement.

4Medication management: Organize schedules, assist with refills, ensure compliance and keep records of medications, allergies and emergency contacts.

5Seek professional assistance: Consult OakBend’s expert team, including geriatricians, dietitians, physical therapists, pharmacists, case managers and trained nurse managers. They specialize in the unique needs of the elderly, providing personalized support for well-being and quality of life.

At OakBend, we are dedicated to providing exceptional care for seniors and helping them age with grace. Our Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) Unit is committed to the well-being and holistic care of the elderly, ensuring they receive the compassion and attention they deserve.

For more information, visit www.oakbendmedcenter.org to learn more about our dedicated team of professionals.