Senior Living Pandemic Protocol & Lessons Learned

Recently we conducted a series of interviews with four of our clients Cadence, MorningStar, Liv Generations, and HarborChase. We wanted to know what protocols worked and which didn’t. Were there any major restructuring of living spaces and programming among their communities? What did they learn, and how will they continue to move forward in a post-pandemic world. As a design firm that focuses on senior living, obtaining this information was imperative to ensure we continue developing communities that enrich residents’ lives and promote a safe and healthy lifestyle.

Vaccine Policies, Sick Time and Pay

In the first round of questions, we focused on the communities vaccine policies, sick time, and pay.  All clients took similar approaches concerning the vaccines; not many communities mandated the vaccine among their staff or residents. However, some clients stated that they provided incentives such as increased pay, gift cards, and raffles for their staff. The residents were very compliant in regard to taking the vaccine, so no mandates were necessary. However, some communities did require new residents or new hires to be already vaccinated. 

Food Service and Social Distancing

As we continued our questions into foodservice and social distancing, our clients shared that due to the significant differences within the local government guidelines from county to cities, they had to adapt quickly and make rapid changes, but making unified operation decisions among all communities was very difficult. Many communities offered room service and meal delivery via carts during the initial lockdown. Other communities opened their dining rooms to residents during the lockdown, with strict social distancing procedures and staggered mealtimes, but it varied by local restrictions. The communities did not allow anybody that was not staff or resident inside, so they felt comfortable allowing their residents to have safe and socially distant interactions with one another. An enforced two-week quarantine was in place only if someone in the community contracted covid.

Functionality of Amenities & Spaces

Learning about the functionality of amenities and spaces throughout the communities was very important for us. We wanted to know what held up and what didn’t, whether it be furniture, fabrics, individual rooms, or space layouts.  We were pleasantly surprised to hear that most furniture and materials did great at withstanding the daily use of harsh chemicals used to disinfect. They also expressed that spaces such as hallways and expanded intersections of each floor became a way for residents to gather around and interact while still socially distancing. These spaces proved to be more flexible than the closed-off game or activity rooms. Other areas that became essential were the outdoor patios, pools, and gardens. It permitted staff to hold more interactive activities for the residents while minimizing the risks. 

However, there were challenges when it came to areas such as mailrooms and marketing rooms. People who were not residents or staff needed access to these rooms, but due to its location within the community and having no direct access from the outside, it created a risk factor and presented the staff with challenges when receiving mail. Various clients expressed that they would like to rethink the location and the outside accessibility to these rooms for current and new construction communities. They also mentioned that they would be revisiting the size and layout of resident’s rooms to allow for an eating area and more outdoor space such as private balconies.

The Future of Senior Living Design

We asked our clients if they consider moving away from a residential or hospitality design to facilitate their medical needs. They unanimously said no. They believe new architectural builds are still effective and can attend to all needs of the residents. However, there will be some changes, such as moving into more touchless controls in common areas and incorporating more indoor-outdoor experience to create better airflow. Selecting cleanable non-porous materials will also be a big push among communities. However, dining areas will likely remain the same as the design often includes dividers and booth seating that give the residents privacy and plenty of room for social distance.

In conclusion, although there will be some changes in senior living communities in the years to come, whether from new materials, finishes or technology. These changes will only further improve the safety and well-being of the residents. Of course, you can still expect to see vibrant designs and amenity-rich senior living communities that help create beautiful living experiences for the residents.