Image of male nurse pushing senior woman in a wheelchair in nursing facility

Proposed legislation that would require multiple federal agencies to develop best practices for designing senior housing facilities to reduce the spread of contagious diseases received high praise from the nation’s largest nursing home association. 

“Since the start of the pandemic, long-term care providers have done everything in their power to protect residents and staff, but the highly contagious nature of COVID-19 in congregate settings like long-term care facilities has contributed to the disproportionate impact the virus has had on our nation’s seniors,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, said in a statement issued Thursday. 

He added that “examining ways we can improve the design of long-term care housing is a positive first step in preventing the spread of communicable diseases and keeping our most vulnerable citizens safe.”

U.S. Rep. John Katko (R-NY) in mid-October introduced the bipartisan legislation, dubbed the Keeping Seniors Safe from COVID-19 Though Home Design Act, following concerns of seniors and nursing home workers during the coronavirus health crisis. 

The proposal would direct the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture to study how the layouts of nursing homes and assisted living facilities can be optimized to decrease the chances of communicable diseases of being widespread. The study would also consider the potential advantages of updated heating and cooling systems, installing hand-free sinks and redesigning building layouts. 

Researchers have recently urged operators to reexamine their facility design models to better protect residents after COVID-19 exposed flaws in current spatial practices at long-term care facilities.

A Washington Post report this week also found that non-traditional nursing homes that emphasize smaller buildings with private rooms have had success in stopping and limiting COVID-19 cases in their facilities. 

“As we look to the future, we must take the lessons we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic to adopt meaningful reforms that will ensure long-term care providers are equipped to handle future public health crises,” Parkinson added.