No Wrong Floor on the Elevator: A Vision for the VA as an Age-Friendly Health System

Author and Disclosure Information

Background: The Age-Friendly Health Systems Initiative is a quality improvement movement led by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and supported by the John A. Hartford Foundation to improve care for older adults. The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has set a goal to become the largest integrated Age-Friendly Health System in the United States.

Observations: As the veteran population ages, delivering Age-Friendly care is an urgent priority. VA clinicians should apply the 4Ms of the Age-Friendly Health Systems Initiative: Mobility, Mentation, Medications, and What Matters.

Conclusions: No matter which floor a veteran exits on a VA elevator, they should expect to receive Age-Friendly care that will meet their needs as they age.



One morning I stepped into the elevator in the lobby of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center where I work, holding a cup of coffee, joining another staffer, a middle-aged man, wearing a veteran’s pin on his employee badge. An older veteran slowly approached the elevator doors, shuffling with each step, and since he was at the front of the elevator, he cheerfully bellowed “Which floor?” as he offered to push the button for us.

“What’s on 12?” he asked in a jovial voice. I smiled. “Aging research,” referring to the Geriatrics Research Education and Clinical Center where I work.1

“I definitely need that—I forgot where I’m going!” he joked, his fingers hovering over the elevator buttons.

As we reached his floor, the doors opened, he waved with a smile and unsteadily made his way out of the elevator and down the hall to his appointment. As the elevator doors closed behind him, the other staffer turned to me and said with a shrug, “That’ll be me one day,” as he got off at the next floor.

When I got off the elevator and walked toward my office, I reflected on the care that I as a geriatrician and we at the VA hope to provide to aging veterans, now and in the future: Age-Friendly care. Age-Friendly means the compassionate care that we want for those who have served our country, for our loved ones, and for ourselves as we age. Age-Friendly means person-centered, evidence-based care that as we grow older will help us to address challenges that may come with older age, such as falls, cognitive impairment, and polypharmacy. Too often the health care system remains focused on the chief concern or on a clinician’s specialty and may not focus on those important areas where we can potentially intervene to support aging veterans.

The VA has set a goal to become the largest Age-Friendly Health System (AFHS) in the country.2 Led by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Age-Friendly Health Systems Initiative aims to help clinicians and care settings “follow an essential set of evidence-based practices; cause no harm; and align with what matters to the older adult and their family caregivers.”3 An AFHS cares for older adults with attention to the 4Ms—What Matters, Mobility, Mentation, and Medications.4 Specifically, in an AFHS, older adults are asked what matters to them so we can align their health care with their goals; clinicians evaluate veterans for safe mobility and fall risk reduction, cognitive impairment and mood disorders, and identify and avoid high-risk medications.5 In an AFHS, the 4Ms are practiced as a set, reliably, across settings, so that there should be no wrong door or wrong floor for an older veteran to receive Age-Friendly care within the VA health care system.6


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