Independent Living Provider PARC Creates Family Meetup Spaces Out of Pre-Fab ‘Pods’

U.S. senior living providers have struck on a variety of creative solutions to enable in-person visits during the Covid-19 pandemic, but they may want to look north of the border to gain inspiration from what one Canadian independent living company has created.

Vancouver-based PARC Retirement Living, which operates five communities in and around Vancouver and has three in development, has created Family Meetup Centres by repurposing modular containers of the type typically used as offices on construction sites.

Like senior living providers across Canada and the United States, PARC banned non-essential visitors in response to the Covid-19 crisis. The organization began to facilitate virtual family visits via iPads, but wanted to do more, Jacqueline Omstead, director of operations and sales, told Senior Housing News.

“Our owner, Rainer Müller, said we might be in this a couple years, until we find a vaccine — we should be looking at pods outside our residences so that residents connect with their families,” Omstead said.

PARC contacted Britco, a Texas-based manufacturer of commercial modular buildings, and floated the idea of transforming them into places where senior living residents could have in-person visits with loved ones. 

“They said, ‘Let’s work together and make this happen,’” Omstead explained. “It all pulled together within a couple weeks.”

The concept is straightforward: The containers are delivered to PARC communities and placed in easily accessible locations for residents, usually in front of the building or in loading bays. Their interiors are transformed into Family Meetup Centres through the addition of a tempered glass barrier, which allows residents and loved ones to see each other while being protected from virus transmission.

The pods are designed to be comfortable, with chairs and a tabletop. All surfaces are easily disinfected to allow for cleaning between visits, and air filtration systems are installed to further increase safety. Outside the pods, PARC installed washrooms for visitors, so they do not have to enter the independent living building itself.

Costs range between $15,000 and $20,000 a pod, including the washroom, Omstead said. For that price, PARC leased the trailers for a year. The organization is anticipating that Covid-19 will be an ongoing threat at least for that time period.

While some U.S. senior living communities have begun to facilitate outdoor visitations, the Family Meetup Centres provide an all-weather solution, Omstead noted. PARC currently is offering visits five days a week but could ramp that up.

The entire process of creating the Family Meetup Centres went smoothly, and Omstead believes that the concept could be replicated by other senior living communities as well, provided they have the capital to lease the trailers and an appropriate place to put them near their buildings.

One potential barrier is that staff are required to facilitate the visits and ensure that the Meetup Centres are properly cleaned. PARC has been able to meet staffing needs in part through temporarily hiring laid-off hospitality workers, Omstead said.

After some initial trepidation on the part of residents, the Family Meetup Centres have proven a success.

“At first people weren’t sure — when the pods arrived there was no signage, it was just this bright orange trailer, and they said I’m not going to use that, it’s crazy,” Omstead said. “Once we had the furniture inside, they were in awe … It’s been very touching for residents and staff to see residents reuniting with families. It makes you realize it’s more than a job.”