Remaining safe with renovation all around

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Kevin Madalinski
Kevin Madalinski

Renovating a senior living community while simultaneously safely providing services for and caring for the residents who live there can be a challenge. Although it's no small accomplishment to manage these conflicting priorities, it is one that is achievable. By concentrating on communication, coordination and teamwork, you can meet your services goals and facility objectives, keeping residents, staff and visitors safe while enhancing their physical environment.

Productive planning and communication

Communication between the construction manager, the facility staff and the facility administration is imperative. Before construction begins, create a safety management plan specific to your project and your unique site conditions. Be sure to establish policies and procedures to maximize the safety of those on site during construction. This includes staff, residents, visitors, vendors and construction workers.

The safety management plan should be developed jointly by the construction manager and the facility leadership, and it should include elements such as:

  • Construction access zones. Set up areas of construction that are fenced and secured, where only trained construction personnel are allowed to enter.
  • Emergency exit routes. Depending on the project, you may need to institute an emergency exit route through the construction access zone.
  • Site-specific safety program. Identify in advance how each project task will be performed safely to head off prospective problems.
  • Safety coordination meetings. Schedule weekly meetings of the construction management staff, subcontractors and senior living community representatives to review current construction tasks as well as approaching schedule and process issues that may affect safety.
  • Safety director appointment. Designate a construction management staff member to be responsible for the overall safety of the job site. This person should be available at all hours to address safety concerns and questions.

A crucial element of the safety management plan is having the facility representatives and the project manager address specific items such as common patterns, visitor spaces, pedestrian crossing areas and campus and facility entry points. It is wise to notify your neighbors of the project, providing them with the opportunity to plan ahead so that your construction does not negatively affect their access points, deliveries or business routines. Determine whether there are traffic patterns, such as nearby schools or manufacturing shift work, that should be taken into account when considering traffic disruptions or detours.

Coordinate people, schedules and information

Coordinating construction without disrupting the daily activities of residents requires precision and teamwork. The construction schedule must be carefully choreographed by the construction manager and the facility team. Giving thoughtful consideration at the project's beginning to how the construction may affect residents' schedules will provide ample time for necessary changes to agendas, procedures and processes. This should greatly reduce the effects to both the construction and the daily activities of residents and staff.

For example, if an addition is planned near a common area, such as a dining room, then actions will be required to minimize dust, noise and construction worker intrusion into that area of the building. Open construction areas must be carefully cordoned off and secured to protect residents from any potential harm.

The site plan should identify what areas of the building and the campus will be affected and when the various construction activities will take place. Don't be lured into only discussing a specific construction zone. Review the overall site plan and clearly highlight all areas that might be troublesome or hazardous.

Selecting staging areas that minimize conflict between construction and resident and/or visitor areas is key to safe and effective site circulation. Creative thinking can keep the project on schedule with minimal disruption to staff and residents.

Regular, frequent coordination meetings between the construction manager and the facility staff are essential for evaluating progress, making changes and looking ahead. These meetings improve synchronization and reduce risk.

Safe renovations require custom and creative solutions

Despite close communication, new challenges and opportunities can arise. Here are a few highlights of creative solutions that were used at recent senior living community projects.

Continuing care retirement community — Ottawa, IL

  • Dementia understanding and response training was required for all construction workers and staff.
  • Construction workers were instructed to leave no tools unattended.
  • Radios were prohibited to maintain a quieter work site.

Rehabilitation center and assisted living and skilled nursing facilities — Arlington Heights, IL

  • Due to the level of medical care being provided, extra precautions were given to ensure that utilities were constantly functional.
  • Residents were temporarily moved out of areas to be renovated and into unaffected areas.
  • A temporary egress was originally positioned through the heart of the construction site for safe passage and was continually altered as the phases progressed and the landscape of the work area changed.
  • Special carts were purchased (fully enclosed and lockable) for workers on site so that tools were not accessible, thus keeping residents safe.  

Full continuum of care campus — Green Bay, WI

  • Temporary partitions separated residences from work areas, ensuring the safety of staff and residents.
  • Separate entrances were developed — one for staff, visitors and residents, and another one for construction staff.  
  • Construction personnel had to work in some owner-occupied zones. The field project manager ensured that construction workers were healthy (not fighting contagious illnesses, such as a cold, cough or flu) if they were assigned to work in residential sections.
  • Located in a residential neighborhood, all exterior construction activities started after 7 a.m.

It takes a team to keep everything on track

Renovation projects can be exciting but also can prove to be challenging. Construction personnel and facility administrators must work together to ensure that noise, dust, disruptions and distractions to daily activities are minimal and that the resident environment remains a safe one.

Combining the backgrounds and knowledge of the construction manager, the facility leadership and the various subcontractors, as well as integrating their various viewpoints, is key to ensuring project success. Everyone must be on the same page, so to speak, however, and that requires communication, coordination, diligence and teamwork. By focusing on these key elements, you'll be well on your way to a successful — and safe — renovation.

Kevin Madalinski is the director of construction services for Hoffman Planning, Design & Construction Inc. With an undergraduate degree in architectural engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, he offers more than 20 years of construction management and engineering experience. Madalinski has partnered with more than a dozen senior living providers, collaborating on more than 20 facility-related projects nationwide.  

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