Architects Work to Take “Nursing” Out of Senior Living Design

A culture shift is taking place in senior living architecture and design, as firms look to eliminate existing “nursing” elements in favor of new features that foster social engagement and technology advancement.

For skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), that might mean eliminating traditional nursing stations to make way for resident engagement and technology, while for other assisted living and independent living it can mean implementing design elements into units that can accommodate all age types and physical abilities.

Largely, there has been a push for universal design, or a solution that produces building features that are usable and effective for everyone, not just people with disabilities or physical limitations.

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Over the last six months, Chicago-based BLDD Architects has been working on renovations to skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) throughout Illinois, converting room sizes from doubles to singles that include private baths.

Lately, more of the firm’s clients have called upon them to take the “institutional feel” out of the facilities, says Scott Likins, principal with BLDD and co-director of the company’s Senior Living Design Group.

Changing institutional facility aspects includes reducing nurse stations to roughly one-fourth of their original sizes, instead creating a more residential desk where there might only be space for a care provider’s laptop. This, Likins suggests, fosters greater social engagement between residents and clinical staff.

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“A bunch of controls, phones and paperwork lying around a nursing station don’t look very residential to a resident,” he says. “These areas can be designed so that there’s space to congregate.”

As technology continues to become more common among nursing staffs, such as being equipped with tech like electronic health records, Likins sees efforts to minimize institutional aspects taking hold.

“Just thinking about what has occurred with technology over the last 30 years, it’s a night and day difference between then and now,” he says. “Inch by inch, more people are getting into the culture movement.”

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BLDD is also implementing elements of universal design in its renovations that can accommodate individuals of various physical capabilities, such as creating roll-in showers within residents’ rooms to accommodate unexpected life events that might cause an individual to become wheelchair-bound in the future.

The influence of universal design is catching on as more people are beginning to embrace this type of all-ages design even for independent living settings, according to Manny Gonzalez, principal with California-based architectural firm KTGY.

Aside from large entryways, some of these design elements include features like non-slip bathroom flooring, drawers in base cabinets, adaptable showers to accommodate folding benches and grab bars, as well as clearance space around beds to enhance accessibility—all of which are included in a recent project Gonzalez worked on for a retirement community in Arizona.

Verrado, the community located in the town of Buckeye, is geared toward baby boomers. But while this age demographic might not yet require the supportive services would need in an assisted living community, implementing universal design features can serve as preventative measures to keep boomers in their homes longer.

“Universal design is for all ages,” Gonzalez says. “It’s just about making life easier for all ages and physical abilities.”

Everyone from production builders to smaller players, ones who haven’t been in the business of incorporating universal design into their homes are starting to catch on, he says.

“It’s a great step in the right direction,” Gonzalez says. “Hopefully, this trend will help lead the industry.”

Written by Jason Oliva

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