August 4, 2020
From Senior Living Management to Technology, here’s what you can expect to see moving forward.
As the second wave of COVID-19 hits even sooner than the Fall timeline that most health professionals anticipated, senior living management is left with the challenge of keeping senior residents safe through the pandemic and after.
Protecting seniors in assisted living has proven one of the Nation’s greatest challenges yet in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an article by The New York Times, at least 62,000 residents and workers have died from the coronavirus at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities for older adults in the United States. As of July 30, the virus has infected more than 362,000 people at some 16,000 facilities.
Prior to COVID 19, infection control and prevention programs in senior living facilities focused primarily on prevention of influenza, which has always been a threat to senior living communities, workers, and residents. With staff members already engaging in best practices for infection control, the approach to COVID 19 is one based in preparation, not panic.
“As soon as this came out, we didn’t want people panicked but wanted them to feel comfortable that we’re preparing,” Says DR.Oneil of McKnight Senior Living.
According to American Senior Communities, “Currently, around one million Americans live in some type of senior living community, and that number is expected to double by the year 2030.”
The challenge that Senior Living Managers are faced with today is how to advance senior living facility design, layout, procedures, education and communication based on the guidelines provided by the CDC to ensure that these communities are protected both now and in the future. This will require utilizing technology, retrofitting current facilities and adapting the approach to new assisted living construction.
Senior living facilities were initially designed with the idea of community and togetherness in mind. But with new social distancing guidelines, senior living facility managers have been left with difficult decisions about how to adapt communal spaces and make visitation safe for family and friends. While part of the challenge is reducing risk, the other is maintaining the morale and spirit of residents. Social isolation and loneliness are linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, and cognitive decline.
Some facilities have begun retrofitting empty resident rooms as new safer means for visitation, dividing the rooms in two using a glass partition. Dining halls once buzzing with activity are now empty. Some facilities have completely discontinued any in-person dining and deliver meals directly to resident’s rooms while others have started working on a rotating schedule allowing a certain number of residents to safely dine six or more feet apart at a time.
“In one instance, we converted a residential unit into a dedicated area for visitors, separated by a glass wall and with its own HVAC system. We created an exterior door specifically so the visitor is able to enter the suite directly,” Anthony Vivirito, Senior Project Manager, at Boston-based The Architectural Team told The Archinet in one interview.
Short-term solutions however are not ideal, and the approach to renovating and new senior living construction will start to change dramatically from materials used to building layouts to technology.
Fortunately, some of the senior living design trends that were already desired are now being implemented, just more quickly than everyone might have imagined. While the approach to senior living design has always been more traditional, according to B. Dean Maddalena, President of Austin, Texas-based StudioSIX5, most seniors don’t want this anymore. They enjoy collaborative spaces with modern design elements and features.
“It used to be that every activity needed its own room, which sat empty most of the day,” said Maddalena in an interview with the BDC Network. That’s changed. The movie room can also serve as the chapel, the lecture hall, a meeting room, or a training room. “We don’t really have libraries in our senior communities anymore,” he said. “It’s more like a Starbucks with magazines.”
Moving forward, renovations will include moving away from purpose dedicated rooms like meeting rooms, libraries and craft or activity rooms that are now too small to be enjoyed by many with new social distancing guidelines. Advancing senior living design will include open floor plans and larger, multi-functional common areas where groups of residents can enjoy them and still be at a safe distance from each other.
According to Dan Cinelli, principal at Perkins Eastman, new assisted and senior living construction will take a neighborhood approach to living quarters with outdoor amenity destinations being more important than ever.
“We still see old-model nursing homes out there that are 60-bed, two-people-in-a-room [models]. During a COVID-19 crisis, how can you self-isolate such a large population?” Cinelli said in an interview with Senior Housing News. “I think you’re going to start seeing [assisted living communities] get broken down into 16- to 20- bed households. It would be easier to be able to self-isolate that population.”
Technology will also play a huge role in new assisted living construction and renovation.
“Touchless technologies will become more prevalent than ever before. Tech like touchless elevator buttons, motion-activated doors and lights, automatic faucets and soap or sanitizer dispensers, will all become crucial components to retrofitting facilities as well as best practices for new construction moving forward,” said Denis Koval, the CEO of Global Construction.
There is no doubt that technology will significantly increase throughout senior living facilities all over. Senior living managers and contractors will start to collaborate to find solutions to reduce risk during day to day tasks and reduce contact when doing things like distributing medication and meals, using the bathroom, and moving around the facility and common areas.
“It’s really important to reduce touch points throughout the facilities. The most common ones like doors and light switches can be easily eliminated by installing voice-activated or sensor-activated tech,” said Erik Good, Business Development Manager at Global Construction. “That’s one of the things that we are working towards at Global Construction, and something that really should be getting implemented at facilities just to improve mobility in general for residents, regardless of COVID.”
Voice and motion-activated technology will be essential in reducing touch points and the risk of spreading germs. Motion-activated doors like this ADA compliant one from Norton, which are already commonly used in hospitals, will be safe solutions for facilities to reduce common touch points.
We will also see an increased use of virtual meeting platforms like Zoom and Skype to communicate with family and friends or even medical professionals who are providing tele-medicine and may not be allowed to have face-to-face meetings.
While some facilities have already started retrofitting vacant resident rooms into safer visitation rooms by utilizing glass partitions, these short-term solutions will ultimately not be enough to safe-guard the health of residents in the long-run.
Other, more long-term solutions like installing smoke compartments and utilizing ultra-violet cleaning methods will also become more popular. Managing humidity levels will become more important than ever as well.
Split variable refrigerant flow (VRF) systems will start to replace traditional central system designs as they are significantly more effective. And bi-polar ionization HVAC systems, which is a technology that can convert oxygen molecules from the air into charged atoms that surround harmful microparticles such as viruses or allergens, and deactivate them, are already becoming more widely used technology in senior living facilities as well.
We will also see more changes in building materials and infrastructure. There will likely be a huge decline in the use of porous products like carpet and wood as these materials easily house harmful bacteria. Antimicrobial products that are more resistant to pathogens like copper-based products will become more widely used as they don’t allow for the growth of microbes.
Senior living managers, architects, and contractors have their work cut out for them to once again make senior living facilities a safe-place. But regardless of the challenges in front of them, they know that they will get through it together.
“These aren’t easy times for any of us. Not for facility managers, residents, or any of us on the renovation and construction side. We’re being forced to think quickly and creatively, and to adapt on a timeline that is almost non-existent. There are literally lives at stake here. But one thing I do know is that we are all going to get through this together and we will come out of this stronger, better, and more prepared for future challenges and generations.”Erik Good, Business Development Manager at Global Construction.
Join us in the LinkedIn group Western States Senior Living to keep up to date on trends and technologies in senior living facility construction and renovation post COVID 19.