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The Future of Assisted Living Communities in the Post-COVID-19 World

​The kind of construction we're seeing post-COVID-19 looks very different from pre-pandemic construction; delays in supplies, staff shortages, and designing for a post-pandemic world have all left their mark. But one area of construction that can be altered to fit the needs of the community is the construction of assisted living communities. COVID-19 has been particularly harmful for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, especially seniors and other members of assisted living facilities, and our construction practices can and must reflect what we've learned about fostering safer environments.

What will post-COVID-19 construction of assisted living communities look like, and how can assisted living projects change to create safer and more functional environments? In this article, we'll explore the future of these vital communities. While civil engineers can’t easily address many of the issues that have affected assisted living communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, what they can do is consider what design features can be put in place to make assisted living communities safer.

1. Assisted Living Communities Should Be Easily Accessible for Vehicles and People.
Designing and building effective transport networks, including roads suitable for heavy goods vehicles, means assisted living communities are more easily able to:

  • Transfer critically ill patients to hospitals when appropriate.
  • Receive shipments of PPE and other supplies.
  • Allow families to safely visit or take residents home when appropriate.

Creating safe ways to receive goods that minimize infection spread could be critical, too. Parking facilities that allow people to exit their cars while maintaining a suitable distance from other visitors or staff may also help.

2. Safer Walkways Inside and Out
We have learned much about the importance of social distancing to protect against the transmission of COVID-19 and other illnesses. It makes sense, then, to create spaces that allow them to walk down corridors or along pathways without having to squeeze past other residents, visitors, or staff. This may mean that  design teams have to consider revising designs that use narrow corridors to save space or that fail to prioritize safe, outdoor connections between buildings.

3. Creating Communities 
Keeping seniors safe doesn’t mean isolating them further. In fact, that only compounds the problem, as the impact of loneliness and isolation on mental health cannot be overstated. An alternative to this is to create communities of small campuses that are all connected safely — a type of senior village where residents can come together when it’s safe to do so, but return to comfortable, distanced, and safe lodgings whenever they need or want to. This model would move away from shared rooms in a traditional nursing home-style building to a series of small neighborhoods connected to decentralized dining hubs, healthcare centers, and other essentials and utilities.

4. Embracing Alternative Materials
Designers of assisted-living communities can also consider moving away from traditional construction materials to those that are easier to clean or are naturally resistant to pathogens such as viruses. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the virus responsible for COVID-19 can survive for up to three days on stainless steel and plastic. On alternative surfaces, such as copper, the virus dies after four hours. Copper, bronze, and brass have natural antimicrobial properties, helping limit not only the spread of coronaviruses but other potentially dangerous pathogens such as E. coli. Other options include antimicrobial paints and coatings for repeated touch points such as door handles. These finishes create surfaces so abrasive at a microscopic level that they literally rip pathogens apart.

Of course, civil engineers and architects have to consider cost and weight when looking at alternative materials. Hopefully, as research continues into the best ways of making living areas more resilient to infection, more alternatives will become available for anyone designing and planning assisted living communities. In the meantime, civil engineers can take the time to look at the reasons viral infection was so prevalent within senior living communities. In doing so, they can create life-saving solutions for new assisted living neighborhoods to ensure those issues aren’t replicated in the future.

Consult Engineering Surveys & Services for more information on the transforming world of post-COVID-19 construction for assisted living and beyond.

Image Credits: Freepik @Creative Commons

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