This article is sponsored by ERDMAN. In this Voices interview, Senior Housing News sits down with ERDMAN Senior Vice President of Senior Living Todd Hudgins to learn how senior living operators are cultivating physical design spaces in their communities for the health and wellness of staff members. Hudgins discusses why operators are spending money on non-revenue-generating spaces — and shares the connection between his senior living career and his past life in competitive sailboat racing.
Senior Housing News: Todd, what career experiences do you most draw on in your role today at ERDMAN?
Todd Hudgins: I’d have to say it’s racing high-performance sailboats. I’ve been in the senior housing industry for about 14 years, but prior to senior housing, I raced sailboats professionally. Before that, I was a professional sailing coach in national events, world championships and the Olympics. Traveling to, racing and coaching in high-level events created a deep-rooted competitive focus in my soul. Part of competing at that level is understanding the right goal to set along the way. It’s not always just winning.
As I’ve become a student of the sport of senior housing, so to speak, I’ve always found myself curious: What creates a win for a senior housing operator? Obviously an operator can’t win without a positive resident experience. To create the path to that victory of a positive resident experience, you have to start asking yourself questions until you get all the way to the starting point. I firmly believe that starting point is having a positive, happy, fulfilled and well-balanced team.
You then back up one more step and ask, How do we achieve that? That question has many answers. As architects, we think about the designed environment and how we can play a role in solving the piece of the puzzle tied to staff wellness.
I know that’s an odd path to get to senior housing, but I was just following it, and this is where it led.
How do you help senior living operators cultivate staff and caregiver wellness through the physical design of their communities? And to what degree do they understand that connection between design and wellness?
Hudgins: I believe our operating partners and clients completely understand that connection. It’s not uncommon for them to rely on us for recommendations or for us to learn from their experiences. ERDMAN’s design process incorporates journey mapping, which allows us to see through the eyes of caregivers and residents alike, and helps us shape their experience of a space. Plus, we have the advantage of seeing many operators handle this differently, and we can take those experiences and mold them together as a set of guide rails to go into the next project. Most folks appreciate that experience.
While design and the physical environment is only one piece of the puzzle, it contributes to wellness and ultimately longevity. After all, I think everybody’s after long-standing, tenured, loyal team members. That’s why ERDMAN works on building a positive and rewarding culture. If you can keep those teammates around longer and keep them happy and fulfilled, they make the best pool of next-level leaders from which to build a great organization.
Another thing I’ve taken from professional sailboat racing is that every detail matters. Any detail that can be controlled should be controlled, and anything that can’t be controlled should be let go of. Be intentional about designing for staff. That’s a detail that can be controlled and will make a big difference.
How does architectural design deliver important wellness outcomes for staff and caregivers, and what does that do for an operator’s ability to attract and retain talent?
Hudgins: This is really where design begins to be part of solving the senior living industry’s labor issues. Our labor issues are huge. People in all industries need to take breaks and recharge. In a senior living community, it takes a small army of dedicated people to care for the aging population. It can be stressful. Creating spaces for staff to relax, take a breath and recharge is crucial to their ability to perform.
We call it “off-stage decompression,” where somebody can regroup and take a deep breath, even lose the smile if they had to smile all day long. It’s pretty easy to tell when people in any service industry are not having a good day. It is often apparent and affects those around them. Their world is hard and designing space where they can let their hair down for a bit helps. Thoughtfully designed staff spaces will deliver a happy staff. The outcome is happy residents.
What requests are your senior living clients bringing to you around enhancing staff decompression space?
Hudgins: Breakrooms are getting a bit larger with access to the outdoors and maybe access to dining patios and other amenities just to serve the staff. We’re adding not only vending machines, but also fresh food options and more spaces with natural light. We’ve got a fantastic landscape architect on our team and he is putting biophilic elements in the back-of-the-house spaces, when possible, and promoting the healthy impact of biophilia.
It’s kind of cool to watch that evolve. In some cases, we’re centralizing resources for staff so that they can take fewer steps to get the things that they need. In other cases, we’re decentralizing them and placing resources where they’re needed for fewer steps and easier navigating. We will distribute those different storage areas just to make the building run more ergonomically.
How do developers feel about designing non-revenue producing space, such as for staff wellness? Obviously, this is a time in which every dollar counts.
Hudgins: Non-revenue-producing square footage, as a percentage of total square footage, is a pretty important metric when you consider the cost to build. Then you consider the monthly net operating income that’s required to cover the debt and equity, and developers like to maximize that revenue-producing space. However, there’s another side to it that we all need to take a good look at. That is, if the capital partners can understand that the wellness and happiness of community staff will lead to a quicker lease-up, with less turnover, they might assign more value to non-revenue producing space.
Happy and recharged staff will create better resident experiences and ultimately make a big impact on the financial metrics.
How is the health care world addressing workplace safety through its design?
Hudgins: Workplace safety is paramount. A big trend in health care, which we’re naturally adopting on our senior living projects, is to engage the staff in the design process. We get the staff involved pretty early, discuss the ergonomics of a day in the life of a staff person in a certain department and make sure we’re designing around their needs to the best of our abilities. Along with basic physical safety considerations, spaces must be designed with an eye on applicable COVID protocols. Sanitization, ventilation, and other concerns must be accounted for in an ongoing manner. Our cross-functional architects get to view staff needs from multiple lenses across two very related industries and bring elements from both to the design process.
Finish this sentence: “The top strategy that senior housing providers should employ in 2022 to best prepare for 2023 is…”?
Hudgins: Make intentional choices that improve team member experiences.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ERDMAN is a national leader in health care and senior living strategy, design and implementation, creating positive, impactful solutions to build healthier communities throughout the country. To learn more about how ERDMAN can enhance your staff spaces, visit ERDMAN.com.
The Voices Series is a sponsored content program featuring leading executives discussing trends, topics and more shaping their industry in a question-and-answer format. For more information on Voices, please contact [email protected].