“Up until that time, the aging person was sort of divided into pieces,” said Butler. “If you head a heart problem, you went to a heart doctor; if you had a liver problem, you went to a liver doctor, but no one was looking comprehensively at the person as a whole. That was the whole key to the establishment of the Center on Aging, that we could bring together in one discipline all the participating partners in the care of people who are getting older and they could go to one place and get the care that they needed.”
Luchi and his team worked with The Methodist Hospital, now Houston Methodist, to develop inpatient and outpatient services for geriatric patients, began recruiting researchers to do basic science work and developing more educational programs in the field of geriatrics.
“What we did in the care of patients was to break new ground. It wasn’t generally known how older people react to antibiotics, how susceptible they were to urinary tract infections simply on entering the hospital, whether one could resuscitate an older person and expect a good result. It was that kind of clinical research that we did,” said Luchi.
On the education side, Luchi and colleagues at the Center worked to get geriatrics into the curriculum of the medical students and make geriatrics rotations available to the residents in the Department of Medicine. They worked to create a fellowship program to train future geriatricians and populate BCM’s affiliated hospitals with physicians who had geriatric experience.
“The biggest accomplishment was in recruiting and attracting top-notch people at the clinical level, at the educational level and at the research level. It’s one of the most important things that we’ve done,” said Luchi, who retired in 1998.
Over the past 25 years, the vision has remained the same, to improve the health of elderly people through research, education and clinical care, according to Dr. Hui Zheng, current director of the Center, who has been associated with the Center for over 14 years.
“The Huffington Center was literally at the forefront in many ways and the accomplishments of the center have been substantial,” said Butler.
He notes that studies on simple things such as compliance with medications in the aging population make a huge difference.
“A lot of the early development was in helping people cope with being older – the type of cane they get, how to bend over, how to lift things properly, how not to fall – all those things that are sort of taken for granted, there are preventive measures you can take to eliminate these problems,” he said.