Build Senior Care Facilities That Feel Like Home

Designers, builders can work together to create communities for a new generation.

 By Tyler Virden, Windover Construction

With the baby boomer generation, which represents 20 percent of Americans, now beginning to enter senior status, the elderly population is set to reach 70 million by 2030. This demographic spike creates a need for more senior care facilities and presents an opportunity for existing facilities to innovate and reinvent themselves to better serve the needs of this population. 

Senior care can be a stressful life phase not only for patients, but also family and friends. As baby boomers begin to enter this age range, there has been an increased demand for senior care facilities that deliver the comforts and amenities of home. 

Design and construction of these facilities is changing in response to this trend by incorporating residential finishes, amenities and design elements into new builds and renovations. 

Incorporating residential elements makes these facilities vibrant, inviting and comforting for all those experiencing this life phase — patients/residents, family, visitors and staff — and is changing the face of senior care today. So how can a healthcare organization incorporate this trend into the construction and design of its facilities? 

Whether it be assisted living, transitional living, nursing home or hospice care, here are some tips on creating a facility that feels like home without sacrificing top-notch healthcare for seniors.

Preconstruction Planning 

It is ideal to engage your builder early in the planning process with the design team. To bolster the planning efforts for your facility, identify and establish the key stakeholders who will provide input and make decisions regarding the project. 

Also, create a steering committee that includes representation from your staff, board members and even prospective patients. Having these perspectives will ensure the needs of a healthcare working environment are balanced with the comfort and aesthetic needs of your patients. For example, having your nurses weigh in on the configuration, scale and location of their stations can greatly enhance efficiency and workflow when in use. 

As your architect develops design, rely on your builder to work the plan on paper. They can provide the estimates, lead times, and constructability of the proposed design and provide counsel on potential alternate options and value-added decisions. 

The details required in designing a home-like healthcare environment — from materials, finishes, art and décor selection to specialized medical equipment — necessitate a heightened level of coordination on paper, in procurement, and in the actual build. 

It is very important to have a building partner who understands the market and can manage the complicated procurement process. Some items may take several months to fabricate and deliver. Having that knowledge up front will be critical to your schedule and planning opening day. 

Your building partner can also evaluate the buildable reality of what is on the drawings. For instance, clever and unique headwall systems can be designed to disguise medical gas lines behind the wall of a patient’s bed. The builder can work with the design team to refine what’s on paper to ensure that it is buildable in the field. 

A trusted building partner can also be indispensable when it comes to issues of permitting, building code and regulations at the state and city level. They can navigate these tricky waters for you. 

Healthcare facilities can be unique construction projects and in the case of hospice care, in many states, Massachusetts for example, the number of beds is regulated.

Building Process – Exterior 

Careful consideration of building supplies — For years our healthcare facilities have been constructed of bland brick exteriors that do little to uplift the spirits of patients inside. Getting creative with the exterior gives the facility more personality, and gives patients and families a warm feeling while walking into the facility. Whether it’s shingles, gabled roof lines, masonry accents or metal roofs, securing an amiable residential feel starts with the exterior. 

Maximize the location — Select a site that capitalizes on a natural setting and offers pastoral views. Work with your builder and design team to optimize your location by evaluating different siting options for your facility that can take advantage of daylight and surrounding views. 

Outdoor Spaces — Decks, outdoor patios, walking paths, and gardens can greatly enhance the home-like feel. Outdoor spaces encourage seniors to walk, socialize and enjoy a change of environment all within the safety net of their care community. This greatly enhances the quality of their experience and minimizes the feeling of confinement or lack of independence that often can accompany living in a senior care facility.

Building Process – Interior 

Hide medical equipment — Dependent on the type of facility, senior healthcare can require specialized equipment and medical devices. These devices and products don’t need to be a nuisance and right in the face of every patient. Builders can get creative with the client and designers to think of the best ways to hide medical equipment in walls or beds, or position them in a way that requires them to be visible only when in use. 

Customized and personal interior finishes — The most impactful way to visually embrace a sense of home in senior care facilities is to utilize unique finishes, materials and décor. Newer or renovated facilities should strive to incorporate design choices that feel more customized or personal and avoid those which feel sterile or institutional. Visual elements create a strong emotional connection to a space and can truly enhance the experience that one has in that space. To create a home-like and inviting environment, it is important to carefully select accents such as millwork, carpeting, artwork, soft furniture, and paint colors. Natural and softer tones in these elements invoke calmness and tranquility. Adding in structural elements such as fireplaces, reading nooks or built-in window benches can make your facility feel special and restorative for patients/residents, visitors and staff alike. 

Build with all ages in mind — Healthcare facilities for the aging are built so patients can get the care they need all in one place. Yet equally important is creating an inviting environment for their visiting family members and guests. Incorporate elements such as a children’s room, cafe, communal dining area, library, family room or private meeting room. These provide spaces for all ages to socialize, relax, play or work, and lend a sense of normalcy during difficult times.

Seniors housing communities serve a vital role in our society and are relied on by millions. Although entering these facilities is a part of life for many, the experience doesn’t need to be a negative one. Creating a warm, welcoming environment from day one starts with thoughtful building practices and design. 

With welcoming construction, senior care facilities can provide patients, families and staff a place to give and receive care that feels like home.

Tyler Virden is vice president and project executive at Massachusetts-based Windover Construction, a construction management firm building commercial and institutional spaces, urban multifamily communities and custom homes.