Senior Housing Design Trends Post-COVID-19

CallisonRTKL Senior Vice President Daun St. Amand discusses key aspects that have arisen during the pandemic, such as social distancing and isolation, and how senior living designers can tackle them in future projects.

Daun St. Amand, Senior Vice President, CallisonRTKL. Image courtesy of CallisonRTKL

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted not only the occupancy rates of senior housing communities and the operations aspect, but it has also raised several questions about how architects should address a number of health-related issues. Social distancing, personal protection in the event of new epidemics and the need for flexible lobby zones are some aspects that designers are getting ready to tackle. 

Daun St. Amand, senior vice president with architecture company CallisonRTKL, shared with Multi-Housing News a few practical approaches to senior living design that we may be seeing more of in the near future. He pointed out that technology will play a more important role in the sector, helping seniors receive the emotional support they need from their family during illness episodes. 

How can the design of senior housing properties help protect these communities from potential outbreaks?

Amand: If designed effectively and with the right protocols in place, senior housing communities can be more resilient for future pandemics. Designers will need to work to figure out ways to keep viruses out of the premises and to make it safe for visitors and staff to spend time with patients who are most at risk. This includes anything that enters the community such as deliveries, and HVAC air quality.

When deployed effectively, these solutions can have far-reaching implications across a variety of market sectors. This may lead to “pre-lobbies” where incoming visitors are tested before entering, staff back-of-house areas where showering and uniforms are required, as well as deliveries from trusted vendors that have a high level of cleanliness.

What do you think is the best approach for turning residential units into temporary hospital units?

Amand: As we’ve seen the government struggle to provide enough hospital rooms for an impending pandemic, a logical approach to help would be to properly fit out a resident’s unit to act as a low-acuity hospital room. This would require study as to what surfaces can work, size of doors and elevators etc. Storage capacity will need to be increased to accommodate personal protection equipment (PPE) and support equipment.

READ ALSO: Apps, Telehealth and Ramped-Up Testing: Senior Housing Adapts to New Normal

What amenities do you think will become less significant and what will be in higher demand after the pandemic?

Amand: Both in senior living communities and in residential properties at large, luxury amenities will need to be flexible for tenants to accommodate social distancing, and designers are going to need to adjust their approach accordingly to allow scaling up and down depending on the need. As many residents of senior living communities—ranging from independent living facilities to assisted living to more intensive care communities—rely on emotional support from family and loved ones, virtual visitation technologies will need to be accelerated. Additionally, with the added storage of ample PPE on-site, senior living communities will have the option of offering PPE to visitors for an added layer of protection as they spend time with their loved ones.

The Springs at The Hacienda at the River. Image courtesy of CallisonRTKL

Furthermore, there is still the question of getting necessary deliveries in and out of the facility and where to store those supplies once they are inside. Demand is now going to be higher for safe delivery entrances that don’t jeopardize the health of delivery people or tenants. These are going to be expected features of senior living facilities going forward.

How can the design of senior living communities be adapted to address the social distancing vs. socialization needs of their residents, as well as mental health?

Qinhuangdao Rehabilitation Center. Separated from the community’s common spaces, the Great Room concept offers a relaxed setting where residents can cook and eat with their family. Image courtesy of CallisonRTKL

Amand: Socialization is an important part of any residential community and a key part of maintaining a healthy state of mind and overall well-being. Designers are starting to develop innovative solutions for visitors to see their loved ones without endangering their health—for example, flexible lobby zones with testing capabilities that provide results before visitors enter the space. Guests would come into a pre-lobby testing zone, where they could then wait in isolation for their results.

Additionally, as residents’ rooms become more flexible so that they can turn over quickly in the event of another crisis, this programming will have to extend to social distancing regulations. Designers will have to implement solutions that allow visitors to socialize within patients’ rooms—for example, screening and virtual visitation technologies.

Are there any other factors or trends that senior housing architects should take into account for future projects?

Amand: The importance of flexibility cannot be overstated. Should we face another pandemic, facilities need to be ready to turn over into “crisis mode” at a moment’s notice. Accordingly, designers need to think strategically about flexibility and adaptability when it comes to our senior living spaces, to ensure that not only residents but staff are accommodated safely. Furthermore, the accessibility of less-mobile patients needs to be taken into account.

Qinhuangdao Rehabilitation Center. Image courtesy of CallisonRTKL

Similarly, residential units may need to be turned into “hospital-at-home” units very quickly, at different levels of acuity, depending on the patient. Senior housing architects and designers will need to figure out how to do this effectively and what units in future senior living facilities should look like to more effectively treat and protect senior patients and their caregivers as they move in and out every day. Furthermore, proximity to hospitals is going to become more important and something that is going to need to be taken into account at the onset of new senior housing projects.

What’s one specific procedure that will change when designing senior living facilities?

Amand: Disinfecting procedures will undoubtedly be greatly improved with the use of UV-C, a lighting source that can be effective with viruses. This technology includes the use of robotics that automatically disinfect interior spaces. The use of UV can also be incorporated into air filtration systems.

What have you learned from this pandemic, and what advice do you have for fellow designers?

Amand: This pandemic has taught us the importance of resilience and preparedness across the board. We have to ensure that all facilities, not just those that house our seniors, are flexible enough to reduce the risk of future pandemics, and that designs allow for the possibility of social distancing protocols, so life can continue as close to normal as usual.

Furthermore, health and safety continue to be our highest priority. When we design for senior living facilities, keeping both the residents and staff safe is key. As designers, this is an opportunity for us to come together as a community and really innovate this sector and develop some new solutions that can transform these facilities for the better.

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