EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Focus

April 29, 2008

Focus: Hospitals invest in new technology to care for aging population

The Andover Surgery Center recently spent more than $1 million renovating and doubling the size of its Doctors Park offices.

Caritas Holy Family Hospital in Methuen is spending millions to install a linear accelerator to more precisely treat cancerous tumors. Lawrence General Hospital is investing in the treatment of heart disease, stroke and breast cancer.

And Merrimack Valley Hospital in Haverhill has spent more than $8 million in radiology equipment, including a state-of-the-art digital mammography system.

Across the Merrimack Valley, hospitals and health care providers are investing millions of dollars in the future — a place where an aging population will be putting greater demands on medical services.

"It's a combination of aging baby boomers and people living longer," said Stephanie Chalupka, a nursing professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. "It's not just a bubble of people turning 60 or older, though. We have a bubble of people living into their 90s or later."

'Age wave'

Local hospitals are already seeing the effects in their waiting rooms, operating rooms and recovery rooms.

"Over the past four years, we've seen an increase in the Medicare population — those people 65 and over — going up from 39.4 percent in 2004 to 41.4 percent in 2007," said Jeff Hughes, the new vice president of business development at Holy Family.

Hughes said the "age wave," as some call it, is more pronounced in Massachusetts because the population of the state is disproportionately older. That's because retirees are staying here while younger people are moving out.

The net result is a higher concentration of older patients needing care for everything from heart attacks to knee replacements.

"As the population ages, the technology to diagnose and treat is evolving as well," said Hughes, 50.

In response, Caritas Holy Family continues to invest in its orthopedic services, recently opening a new bone and joint center.

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