Life After Corona for Senior Living Communities

While the world is dealing with quarantines due to COVID-19, our architects and designers have been thinking about how our experiences now will impact future senior living communities.

Selling Safety

We expect communities to begin promoting their safety features and preparations to prospective residents and their families. After seeing high infection rates at senior living communities, families place extra value on safety measures when deciding where to live. Communities that successfully promote both their on-going safety measures and emergency preparedness will see higher occupancy rates. Communities will market their ability to care for and entertain residents who have to stay in their rooms due to social distancing restrictions. 

We anticipate communities promoting cleaner air. One way to purify air at the scale of a senior living community is with ultra-violet lights installed in the duct work. These high powered UV lights kill bacteria, viruses and mold spores that can circulate in the air system. While it’s effect on COVID-19 is still being researched, UV lights are known to stop viruses similar to COVID-19. In the past the cost of these systems has limited their use. We think the added marketing value of the systems will offset their increase costs.

Communities may also choose to use HVAC systems that are capable of using different filters based on the current risk level. Low cost filters when there is little risk and more expensive but higher performing filters when the risk is higher.

Increased Preparation for Interruptions

Senior Living communities are required to be prepared for power interruptions and being snowed in, but we expect coronavirus experiences to expand the types of situations communities prepare for in the future.

Communities are likely to increase storage of personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and personal care necessities such as toilet paper. This will likely lead to larger storage facilities. We think large operators may be able to reduce these additional costs by developing regional storage centers with supplies that could be distributed to communities in their area during an emergency.

Communities are also likely to prepare for longer periods of self-sufficiency when outside guests are not allowed due to fear of infection. This may include expanded recreation activities and in-room entertainment. Video services that cater to senior citizens providing exercise and hobby activities will become more in demand. 

Technology to Combat Isolation

Today’s quarantines will increase the spread of technology within Senior Living Communities. Communities have quarantined residents in the past due to disease outbreaks, and we expect operational staff to use quarantining more often in the future. This means residents will utilize technology to provide connections to family and entertainment.

Technology use will include virtual doctor visits. As a result of the coronavirus, Medicare approved the use of virtual doctor visits for skilled nursing residents. We anticipate that communities will create specialized rooms for holding doctor visits. Large screen displays and high-resolution cameras will help overcome resident resistance to the idea of a remote doctor directing their care.

Lighting can have a big impact when schedules are disrupted by isolation. Lighting that supports circadian rhythms by changing the brightness of the light and the color to mimic sunlight will help to improve resident and staff health and moods when the opportunities to be outside are limited. This will help residents' bodies get the right cues for when to sleep and when to be active.

Layouts to Reduce Risk

Many industries have adopted an on-stage and off-stage concept where operational activities are hidden from guests or residents. We expect Senior Living Communities to embrace this as a way to limit resident and staff exposure to infectious disease. Creating enclosed service corridors for staff allows access to resident areas without having to travel through the resident areas.

We expect communities to add features that can be activated quickly in the case of an emergency. One example is isolation rooms. With an isolation room you have the ability to separate a sick resident from the rest of the community. Air handling systems can ensure that air from inside the isolation room doesn’t mix with the rest of the community by creating negative air pressure. In addition, isolation rooms typically have a changing and sink area immediately outside so caregivers can put on any needed personal protective equipment. Some communities use isolation rooms as hospice rooms when not being used for their original purpose.

Finishes that Fight Viruses

We are likely to see a rise in antimicrobial finishes such as copper and brass on high touch surfaces. Copper and its alloys, like brass, have long been known to damage bacteria and viruses. Copper interferes with a cell's ability to function and copper ions can damage the DNA of viruses. These properties make these materials useful for door handles, push plates and bathroom fixtures. Unlike stainless steel, copper and brass can tarnish so they require additional maintenance.

Additional antimicrobial coatings can be placed on floors, walls and furniture to prevent the spread of bacteria and give residents extra peace of mind.

There will also be an expansion of “No Touch” devices. Faucets, soap dispensers and paper towel holders will become increasingly automated so the chance of them transmitting illnesses is decreased. Voice assistants amy also be used to activate lights, fans and climate controls. The number of motion sensing doors will also increase.

Ready to Help You

We think life after COVID-19 for senior living communities will require change. The communities that meet resident and families expectations around preparation and control of infectious diseases will be the most successful. Our architects and designers can help you evaluate and decide what options are right for your community.