As the COVID 19 virus continues to ravage our country and we practice social distancing, we begin to think about life “post COVID 19.” One of the issues everyone in our industry will face is how to make senior living communities and nursing homes safer for residents, patients and staff.

It is undeniable that these markets have been devastated over the past several weeks. Social distancing, quarantines and better cleaning techniques certainly have been part of the solution. The bigger issue is: How do we handle the shared air within a community?

Right now, in most senior living communities, the HVAC system can act as a delivery system for the virus throughout a building. A resident at one end of the building could infect a resident at the other end of the building with the virus being delivered by the HVAC system through the duct work. No amount of social distancing, cleaning or quarantining will stop this issue. This is a problem that needs to be addressed to help ensure that the senior living industry isn’t decimated with future outbreaks.

With a specialty for occupied space projects, our firm has worked in senior living and care communities in 18 states and included renovations involving independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, physical and occupational therapy, brain trauma units and short-term care. In developing a response to COVID-19, we turned to our experts — specifically mechanical engineers and HVAC specialists — to develop a system and solutions for shared air that meet the following criteria:

  • Effective at mitigating virus and pathogens.
  • Can be installed on existing units.
  • Does not require changing of ultraviolet light bulbs (no UV bulbs involved).
  • Proven in the market (the system we are homing in on has been used in Boston hospitals).
  • Compatible with all systems.
  • Additional benefits beyond mitigation of pathogens and virus.
  • Identifiable costs.

This is still a work in progress. Once finalized, the system will be supplemented with other mitigation efforts, including but not limited to:

  • Anti-microbial materials and hardware – Hospital-grade hardware, fixtures and coatings that all kill up to 99% of harmful bacteria when cleaned regularly.
  • Specialized wipe-on products – We are working with engineers and architects to test wipe-on products that leave a film thinner than a human hair and will provide additional resistance to bacteria and viruses. These products could be a great benefit to use on existing hardware, grab bars, light switches in assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities.
  • Antimicrobial paint –Painted walls are the largest surface areas within a residence or facility. Taking away walls as breeding grounds for viruses eliminates a large potential for the spread of various viruses.
  • The HVAC system – HVAC systems can spread bacteria and virus spores that can easily move sickness through a facility. Cleaning the duct work should be part of any facility ongoing maintenance plan, during and after construction.

Shared air always has been the elephant that was literally in the room. We knew it had risks. Those risks have come home to roost. The good news is that these risks now will be addressed once and for all, in ways that will make it much, much safer and healthier for patients, residents and staff in the future.

Everyone, stay safe and healthy. This will end. We will all get back to some sort of normalcy in due time. But the way we do things and how we handle issues, particularly in construction will change forever and for the better.

Tom Quinlan is the president of South Coast Improvement Co., based in Marion, MA. For more information, call (508) 748-6545 or visit