Seniors and their living facilities have been more affected by the pandemic than most. The COVID-19 virus is more of a threat to the senior population, and keeping it at bay requires intentional designs, more sophisticated ventilation systems, and technology implementation. The psychological impact of prolonged isolation should be mitigated with creative use of outdoor spaces, safe social environments, and controlled interaction between residents.

Learning from Healthcare Design

Separating affected individuals and highly susceptible residents is necessary, and we can learn a lot from healthcare design. In hospitals, infectious disease controls are routinely implemented— patients and their bedding, food, and all who encounter them are physically separated by design. In many senior environments, these measures are not as prevalent. Cross-contamination whether airborne or by touch was a major factor in deaths at the outset of the pandemic. Understanding how to mitigate contamination requires years of experience dealing with hospital-spread infections.

Ventilation systems not only need to remove more evasive particulates, but they also need to be easy to maintain, service, and replace, so that downtime is minimized. Operable windows can provide fresh air and mood enhancing sunshine.

Video conferencing capability has made telemedicine available to seniors choosing to remain in private homes or independent living facilities much longer than expected, although Medicare and Medicaid have not adapted yet for this trend.

Addressing Facilities Needs

The initial wave of response to these needs is focused on retrofitting existing facilities with upgrades to systems and finishes to make them healthier and easier to clean. New buildings are being designed in a more flexible way, allowing for functional isolation and incorporating greater indoor/outdoor spaces into the program.

The Clark Retirement Community at Keller Lake provides outdoor gathering spaces that allow for safe socializing and connecting with the natural environment.

Exploring prefabricated, panelized, and modular concepts to reduce costs have gained traction, but still represent a small fraction of new construction. Value engineering and more efficient designs can only reduce initial costs so much. Supply chain issues, and labor shortages have impacted the construction costs of new facilities, causing more seniors to age in place. However, innovative mission-based facilities being developed in conjunction with church properties and other new forms of financing options are being targeted to create affordability.

Universal Design and Connecting to Nature

Universal Design (UD), once an afterthought, is now a driver in making common spaces more friendly to populations with a greater number of visual and physical impairments. Circulation pathways and visual cues are analyzed with greater sensitivity to make spaces more barrier-free.

Biophilic design, which addresses the impact of human connection to the natural environment, has also proven to be effective in creating more livable spaces.

At Progressive AE, our national experience working with healthcare providers, hospitals, clean rooms, and all levels of Continuing Care Retirement Communities, make us uniquely qualified to understand the needs and requirements of senior housing in the post-pandemic era. Our inhouse engineers understand how to migrate hospital-tested technology into senior housing types, elevating their quality and functionality.

If you are looking to upgrade or construct a senior living facility for the post-COVID era, our team of experienced, multi-disciplinary professionals would love to help. Contact Housing Practice Leader Mike Rosen for more information.