As difficult as it is finding spare change these days, freshening up a facility is necessary to remain relevant — whether it’s to attract residents or hold on to a fickle workforce. In other words, the return on investment isn’t always obvious. And sometimes, it’s surprising. Designers  offer advice for today’s challenging climate.

1. Administrators would do well to heed the advice…

of busy designers, who say timing is as critical as any other aspect of a redesign or new project. “If the work is an interior refresh, it can be helpful to consider the current use of the space and how other areas could temporarily accommodate that use,” says Melissa Destout, associate principal and senior living practice leader at Perkins Eastman. “Obviously, it is also smart to avoid major holidays and periods of historically high move-ins.”

Timing the renovations so that any shutdowns occur during the spring or fall seasons also will minimize disruption to building occupants.

Top priority goes to any renovation issues that are critical to meeting the immediate safety or needs of current residents or staff, stresses Gaurie Rodman, senior director of real estate strategy and development for Aptura. These include building systems or equipment issues. “Renovations that would allow you to better serve the needs of current residents and staff should be the next consideration,” Rodman says. “Finally, renovations, best determined to allow you to reposition the community to better serve current and future market needs, should be first done with careful planning — and optimal project times.” For example, time renovations well before or after flu seaso or year-end surgical trends, whever possible.

2. Prioritize every project, big or small.

This is especially critical in times of ultra-tight budgets.

Destout often advises organizations to focus on the spaces that have the biggest impact on resident wellness and quality of life.

Nurses’ stations are very popular renovation candidates for facilities that primarily support institutional care because they are often at the center of a neighborhood or wing, with living, dining and open kitchen implications, she adds. “This symbolically and literally puts living at the center of long-term care and often helps improve culture and community.”

Another highly critical renovation target is resident rooms. Key design considerations include adding bath lifts and storage, opportunities for resident personalization, and efficiencies and safety features for staff.

“Many facilities now are consciously using materials and fabrics that play a role in infection control,” adds Elizabeth Donicht, director of business development and senior living sales for Kwalu.

3. Choose upgrades that please residents and their families. 

The upgrades should be visibly deliberate and intentional.

“Adding a destination such as a small café or grab-and-go food area that allows residents and families to share a casual meal clearly communicates that your organization values social interaction and supports residents’ continued quality of life,” says Destout.

“Families look at furnishings themselves as an integral part of overall design,” adds Randy Schellenberg, president of ComforTek Seating, recalling how a cantankerous resident was soothed after the facility installed updated chairs with high-tech mobility features in the dining room and other places.

4. Budgets these days can be tight…

so it’s vital to first ensure that your design project is affordable.

“When considering renovations in a long-term care facility, planning for the future is both complex and critical,” says Destout. Designs that allow for small groups of resident rooms to flexibly provide differing levels of specialty care will help position an organization to meet market needs as they evolve. 

Balancing all the various needs of an average facility isn’t for the faint of heart, as Rodman has learned. Understanding how a renovation can drive net operating income is important.

“As an industry, we don’t have the luxury of making mistakes in our capital investments on facilities,” she says. “Therefore, careful planning, consideration and alignment on anticipated project outcomes, cost and timing are critical to obtaining funding.”