With the COVID-19 pandemic exposing the urgent need of nursing homes to do all they can to limit the spread of communicable illnesses, leadership and staff priorities lie in protecting resident health and delivering the best quality of care possible.

While they must continue to navigate day-to-day challenges — keeping areas clean to reduce the spread of the virus, monitoring resident health and wellness and operating through staff and PPE shortages — nursing homes should also look into the benefits their buildings themselves can deliver. There are critical considerations in a facility’s infrastructure that can help improve resident and staff comfort while meeting environmental goals and creating a healthier environment.

The performance of equipment and systems can paint a clear picture of a facility’s ability to reduce virus spread, reduce energy and utility costs and provide insight into the steps necessary to deliver the most value. While healthy buildings have always been essential, the pandemic has heightened the need to upgrade facilities so they’re more resilient in the long term and prepared for future crises.

Healthy people, healthy places, healthy planet

Protecting occupant health and wellness provides peace of mind for residents, staff and visitors. By investing in solutions that enhance occupant comfort, safety and health, nursing homes can rest assured their building solutions are operating as intended – to deliver an ideal living environment for residents while supporting staff performance. From upgrading HVAC equipment to improve indoor air quality, to integrating touchless access controls for greater operational efficiency, nursing homes can create a smarter, more flexible building that helps mitigate these challenges.

Buildings are responsible for about 40% of the planet’s total energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions from energy use. Upgrading infrastructure helps nursing homes reduce energy consumption and costs while keeping up with increased building regulations. The results of the Johnson Controls Healthy Buildings survey, which surveyed over 800 building decision-makers, demonstrate a clear shift to increased prioritization of investments in healthy building trends and technologies. Through flexible facility monitoring and healthy air strategies, spaces for residents, staff and visitors can become more inviting and efficient and less expensive to operate. 

Considerations for healthy nursing homes

As the pandemic continues, many nursing homes struggle to balance urgent and conflicting priorities between employee and resident health and wellness with critically needed cost savings, revenue increases and sustainability goals.

The need to mitigate transmission of COVID-19 among residents and staff has been the top priority since the outbreak, and it’s worth considering how building investments can be a key step in meeting long-term health, financial and operational goals. While creating cleaner, energy-efficient spaces, nursing homes can reduce their overall operating costs to create more space in the budget, while reducing their carbon footprint. 

The Healthy Buildings survey showed nursing homes are looking to create flexible facilities that can quickly respond to various emergency conditions, such as a pandemic or natural disaster, and protect the health and safety of residents, staff and visitors. 

Nearly three-quarters of surveyed facilities plan to invest in energy efficiency or smart building technologies in the upcoming year. Additionally, more than half of the organizations surveyed have performed indoor air quality assessments and introduced technologies and increased air filtration to reduce the spread. Air treatments and ventilation represented the top building investments in response to COVID-19. 

Creating dynamic, flexible spaces for the future

There is a direct relationship between infection risk and the amount of clean air in a building. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indoor environments with ventilation mitigation strategies help to reduce the concentration of viral particles in the air. To ensure a sufficient clean air delivery rate, nursing homes should leverage a combination of ventilation, filtration, disinfection and isolation solutions. These solutions should be used in conjunction with the proper health and safety guidelines in place, like social distancing, wearing the proper PPE and frequent hand washing. 

Filtration options can increase the collection of airborne particles containing diseases, while ventilation increases outside air circulation. Additionally, optimal temperature and humidity settings can help destabilize the transmission of pathogens in the air, while ultraviolet sanitation and air purification can help promote cleaner air entering the building to achieve this. 

Solutions like touchless access control and contact tracing should also be considered, as they allow for improved social distancing measures and space utilization. At the same time, remote monitoring using a facility’s building automation system provides diagnostics that help providers better understand what is happening in the facility 24/7. 

Real-time alerts can detect social distancing issues and occupant “hot spots” to improve behaviors, manage compliance and make well-informed decisions. As a result, nursing homes can pinpoint locations where contact tracing is required, reassuring residents and staff that their health and safety are top of mind. 

Beginning the journey to a healthier facility

While providing nursing homes with adequate protection of residents and staff, upgrades that create healthy buildings can also support the planet’s health. Installing energy-efficient systems directly reduces the facility’s impact on the environment while reducing energy and utility costs. While considering the health of residents and staff, providers are also considering the health of the planet. Installing these solutions can help meet sustainability goals. 

It’s no question that a healthy environment is ideal for keeping patients, staff and visitors safe. Understanding the role that building systems and equipment play in protecting occupant health and wellbeing is key to delivering high-quality care and establishing resiliency. An assessment can help identify where to focus efforts to support healthy occupants, spaces and the planet. While the process of upgrading a facility may seem daunting, a trusted partner can help analyze existing assets and building needs to create a safer environment, capable of withstanding whatever the future may bring.

Mary Fox, CEM is the national vertical market director of living spaces, Performance Infrastructure for Johnson Controls Building Solutions North America. With more than 30 years’ experience in the energy industry, Mary drives innovative solutions and infrastructure improvements that are enabled by a variety of innovative funding mechanisms.