Senior housing providers looking to increase resident and staff satisfaction and gain a stronger competitive edge in the marketplace should turn their attention to their resident bathing areas.  Dreary, dated, cramped and otherwise uninviting bathing spaces can make residents and staff dread bath time — and they certainly can turn off prospective residents. Even worse, outdated bathing and transfer equipment coupled with questionable bathing practices, can increase the odds of injury and anxiety for residents and employees.

Fortunately, more operators are taking note. Industry experts agree that bathing is becoming more person-centered and the dedicated bathing areas are less institutional.

“More focus is being put on the overall well-being of the individual being bathed, and there’s an emphasis on creating a spa environment and relaxing atmosphere,” says Mary Novotne, co-owner of MasterCare Patient Equipment Inc. 

First impressions count

Whether a facility has the budget for a top-to-bottom bathing area overhaul or has limited resources and must make the most of an existing space, the market is brimming with options. 

“It’s not about giving a bath but creating an enjoyable bathing experience,” reminds Lee Penner, president of Penner Patient Care Inc. That experience begins before the resident even makes it to the bathing unit. As Penner explains, soothing décor and color palettes, ambient lighting, plush towels and other designer touches — many of which can be offered even on tight budgets — help immediately set the stage for a relaxing, enjoyable experience.

Bathing units take center stage in spa areas, and today’s systems offer thoughtful designs and designer touches that don’t disappoint. Modern units come in a wide range of price points and appealing colors, making it easier for senior housing communities to stick to a soothing color palette with more residential appeal. What’s more, bathing units are more innovative and feature-rich than ever before, helping to further convey “luxurious, resident-centric spa” instead of “utilitarian bathroom.” 

Some relatively simple fixes can have a big impact on a bathing area’s overall appeal. When feasible, Penner recommends nestling bathing units against the wall for a more residential, built-in appearance, as opposed to placing the unit in the center of a stark room. Not only does this create a homier, more custom look, but it frees up valuable floor space that simplifies maneuvering and transferring, and it also can help reduce the risk of trips, slips and falls. Side-entry bathing equipment with integrated transfer devices makes transferring residents to and from the bathing unit a snap. As Penner points out, such transfer systems eliminate the need for independent transfers with separate, space-robbing transfer equipment that require residents to be lifted up and over the sides of the bathing unit. For added safety and ease of entry, the integrated transfer systems on Penner bathing units transfer residents in and out at wheelchair height. 

Units with auto-fill features and water reservoirs that keep water warm and ready for the next resident improve resident comfort, while keeping wait times to a minimum between resident baths. Apollo Corp.’s Rapid Fill Reservoir, for example, holds temperature-controlled water until the resident is secured in the tub and can then fill the tub in about a minute, says David Anderson, Apollo’s national sales manager.

Increasingly, modern bathing units are keeping infection control and prevention at the forefront. Pipeless jets that circulate warm air instead of water help simplify cleaning and disinfection while cutting contamination risks. Backflow preventers, which reduce the likelihood of water entering the air line when the air blower is turned off, further aid the infection prevention process. The same is true of smaller-diameter air lines that allow disinfectants, fresh water and air to do their job better by making greater contact with the surfaces of the lines, according to Penner. 

Anderson considers the Remedy Ultraviolet Light Water Purification System one of Apollo’s most exciting innovations. “The UV system helps minimize exposure to harmful pathogens during the bath, as bacteria wash off their bodies,” he says, adding that the technology has been clinically proven to help reduce urinary tract infections among nursing home residents by 50%. 

Moving forward, the market will see the introduction of even more refined clinical applications, such as weighing scales and bariatric models, predicts Joe Chesnutt, head of marketing development at ProCare Medical Company. He also anticipates improved disinfecting systems and antimicrobial materials, as well as the increased availability of hi-lo shower chairs for seated and supine showering. “This will greatly reduce stress on caregivers and integrate with safe resident-handling best practice initiatives.” The new and improved shower chairs would replace the PVC and plastic basic chairs currently in use, he says.

MasterCare’s Novotne says the senior housing segment can expect more demands for top-quality services that pamper residents. Heated air and aromatherapy technology also is standard on all MasterCare BathAire spa bathing systems.  

Innovation doesn’t always mean high-tech, however. As Chesnutt explains, many bells and whistles offered in the past revolved around digital features, including electronic controls, displays and sensors. “What was discovered is, not only did these features add a layer of complexity to the operation of the bathing system, these features [could prove] problematic regarding reliable operation. A basic rule of thumb is, electronics and high humidity and high moisture environments don’t mix well. The movement back to traditional analogue controls and displays will gain momentum over time.”

Practice makes perfect

Even with the exciting innovations taking place in the bathing equipment market, no bathing experience will fully benefit residents and staff unless effective, resident-specific practices are consistently adopted. For starters, experts stress the importance of allowing residents enough time to fully relax.

“I often see the bathing process get rushed due to time constraints,” says Anderson. It’s a mistake that diminishes the health and wellness perks associated with spa bathing, he reasons, such as improved circulation, debridement of open areas, blood sugar stabilization, release of natural pain-relieving endorphins and more. “Residents sit almost the entire day. Buoyancy provided by a relaxing spa bath takes pressure off the gluteal area and facilitates muscle relaxation,” Anderson says.

Detailed and ongoing education and training is critical for all staff involved in the bathing process, so that they understand the benefits of bathing, reduce risks of injury and keep resident safety, comfort and dignity a top priority. Unfortunately, it’s a need that remains unmet at many senior living communities. 

“Often, management gives the least amount of training to bath aides, who have the most personal of all interactions with guests in the community. Who among us is comfortable with getting undressed in front of someone we don’t know?” Novotne asks. 

Silverado Senior Living strives to create a pleasurable bathing experience that’s anything but one-size-fits-all. Although each resident room has its own full bathroom, dedicated spas are incorporated into the design of each memory care unit. 

Another practice adopted by all Silverado bathing staff is to inform residents before spraying them with a shower nozzle. To promote comfort and dignity, residents also have their bodies covered with a sheet or bath towel on areas not being directly bathed. “Keeping the area warm also helps to reduce anxiety,” says Kathy Greene, Silverado’s senior vice president of programs and services. 

Silverado residents who fear traditional bathing are given bed baths that incorporate a massage-like experience. Bathing staff keep residents covered with a heavy bath sheet or blanket, lifting it as each different body part is bathed. “There are also many no-rinse dry shampoos that can be used to wash someone’s hair, when needed,” Greene notes.