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Senior living in a post-pandemic world

Some of the most heartbreaking stories of the coronavirus pandemic have been those emerging from care homes, where vulnerable people found themselves right in the eye of the storm.

The virus infiltrated these residences all too easily and once inside, exacted a devastating toll on elderly residents, with this group accounting for around two-thirds of all Canada’s Covid-19 deaths. 

Care home environments are different from hospitals for a reason; their domestic, non-institutional feel has been shown to have a positive effect on the physical and mental wellbeing of long-term residents.  These environments are designed with new models of elderly care in mind, promoting community and independence – yet these very same features were a factor in facilitating the rampant spread of the coronavirus.

In the future, it’s clear that care home interiors will have to walk a fine line between the creation of holistic, non-institutional environments, and the maintenance of high clinical hygiene standards that maximize infection control. 

But with these two objectives seemingly at odds with one another, how can care homes strike the right balance?  Here’s a look at some key design considerations for the future of long-term care:

Ensuite rooms

Currently within the senior living sector, it’s common to find three- and four-bed units within a home sharing a single washroom.   While this promotes a homey feel and is a good use of physical resources, it’s widely accepted that this is not best practice from an infection control point of view.  Just as most hospitals are moving towards a policy of 100% ensuite rooms, so we expect that care homes will also be designed this way in future.  Where space allows, it’s very possible to add ensuite bathrooms to existing facilities using drywall construction and compact washroom design, complete with the required mobility aids and accessories.

Safe visiting

A moratorium on visitors in care homes for long periods during the peaks of the pandemic caused untold heartbreak for many care home residents and their families.  Being in total isolation from loved ones undoubtedly impacted on the mental and physical health of many residents while many families faced the loss of their loved ones with no opportunity to say goodbye.  In the future, it’s clear that care homes will need to have plans in place to facilitate safe visiting when the infection risk is high, for example during the winter flu season.  For this reason it’s highly likely that future care home design will incorporate dedicated spaces for visitors, whether that is separate rooms or shared facilities with specific privacy and infection control infrastructure in place.  

Improved storage

Good storage is a key element of facilitating good infection control protocols.  This includes effective organization and storage of PPE, particularly at the point of care where it needs to be easily accessed, and also the storage of staff clothing and personal effects brought in from the outside world.  In future, care homes and hospitals may well return to a model whereby staff uniforms remain on site and are laundered centrally to eliminate cross contamination, in which case staff lockers and changing areas are likely to feature more prominently in facility design.

Smart materials

We’re previously blogged about the reasons why wooden handrail is becoming obsolete in care homes despite its aesthetic appeal, and this same trend is likely to extend to all interior finishes in long-term care settings.  Materials that don’t stand up to wear and tear and frequent disinfection will be phased out in favour of robust materials including polyethylene, vinyl and PVCu that offer many years of performance despite frequent cleaning with harsh disinfectants.  We’re also seeing growing demand for surfaces with build-in antimicrobial or antibacterial protection that provides baseline cover against germs and reduces the burden on hygiene personnel.  Advances in design mean these materials can be adapted specifically for care home environments to create a more domestic-looking interior that delivers a clinical level of infection control.

Belroc offers a wide range of interior specialty products that can help care homes adapt to a rapidly changing landscape, and we’re right at the cutting edge of new and emerging products, including hygienic surfaces and next-generation patient privacy.  To find out more about what we offer, get in touch.