As senior living communities return to a new normal, the American Institute of Architects has unveiled post-pandemic design adaptation strategies for retrofitting existing senior housing.

AIA report cover

“Strategies for Safer Senior Living Communities” — assembled by an AIA team of architects, public health experts, engineers and community managers — outlines adaptations that senior living communities can make to ensure the comfort and safety of residents as experts anticipate a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall. 

The report offers design strategies for each section of a community — entryways, lobbies, dining facilities, visitation areas, outdoor spaces, restrooms, fitness areas, etc. — acknowledging the general hazards for senior living communities, including employees working in close proximity with older adults and the mental and physical effects of long periods of isolation.

The challenges of COVID-19 are amplified for senior living communities that house vulnerable populations with complicating health conditions. More than 1 million Americans reside in almost 30,000 assisted living communities, which employ almost 453,000 administrators, caregivers, housekeepers, nurses and other professionals, according to the report. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 80% virus-related deaths since March have been adults 65 and older — and more than half of all senior living community residents are 85 or older.

The report provides guidance to administrators, healthcare professionals and states to “pivot toward a more sustainable set of strategies that may reduce the risk of infection for residents and staff while recreating the fuller and comfortable life that America’s seniors deserve.”

The document lists several general strategies to reduce risk, including touchless equipment and access, air exchange and filtration system, testing protocols, alternatives to meaningful activities, and increased cleaning and maintenance.

When planning to carry out new protocols, retrofitting buildings, adapting spaces for social distancing, or creating new circulation and wayfinding at senior living communities, the AIA suggests:

  • Consolidating operations or grading communities from least to most risky, based on their layouts, to help create criteria for reassigning workers.
  • Consider how operations are (and are not) dependent on the proper personal protective equipment.
  • Remember that older adults with memory or cognitive limitations and who depend on familiar spaces within care communities likely will require special attention to comply with new ways of living and working.
  • Finding ways for residents to safely connect with family and friends may help maintain vital emotional and social bonds during isolation and limited exercise periods.
  • Taking great care when implementing new public health protocols as well as when explaining them to residents and staff.

The report from AIA was completed in conjunction with the AIA Design for Aging Advisory Group.

In other coronavirus-related news:

  • A California lawmaker has introduced a COVID-19 relief package with a bill that calls for the state Department of Social Services to establish a task force to address the COVID-19-related housing policy and care needs of low-income older adults who receive public assistance and live in licensed adult residential facilities and residential care facilities for the elderly. A report would be due Jan. 1, 2023.
  • The president and CEO of LeadingAge PA is calling for state lawmakers and the governor to fund COVID-19 testing in assisted living communities, personal care homes and nursing homes so operators can allow visits again. “Right now, Pennsylvania is sitting on $1 billion in federal CARES Act funding that was provided for this purpose. Additionally, there is up to $175 million designated for testing that has not been disbursed or allocated since Gov. Wolf signed HB 2510 more than five weeks ago, and there is no information available to providers on how they may be able to obtain any of this funding,” Adam Marles wrote in a post on the organization’s website.
  • The Connecticut Army and Air National Guard have teamed up with the Department of Public Health to inspect assisted living communities and nursing homes throughout the state during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are surveying all long-term care facilities to ensure adherence to COVID-19 guidelines as directed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • As COVID-19 numbers increase, some Oregon senior living and long-term care facilities are closing down visitation again. 
  • Advocates for Ohio’s assisted living communities say they are being short-changed and passed over for federal COVID-19 assistance. Although nursing homes in Ohio each received CARES Act funds, Ohio’s 765 licensed assisted living communities — from which 5% to 10% of the state’s COVID-19 cases have originated — have gotten nothing, according to the Ohio Assisted Living Association.
  • The culinary team at Pine Run Retirement Community in Doylestown, PA, are hosting live cooking shows for residents. Residents are able to sign up in advance for kits that are hand-delivered 45 minutes before the cooking show airs. Residents don’t have to worry about leaving their homes during the pandemic or what to do with leftovers — everything is delivered fresh and perfectly portioned.
  • Residents at Kendal at Longwood are creating art activity packets for children ranging from kindergarten age to middle school through the Study Buddies on East Linden, an after school tutoring/enrichment program.