Furnishings in long-term care settings are subject to a lot of wear and tear, more so than in many other settings. Experts offer steps that staff and residents can take to slow down the degradation and extend the lifespan of chairs, tables and other furnishings commonly found in eldercare settings.

1) Cleanability is important for slowing decline.

Ask any designer or seasoned facility housekeeping manager what the most important thing to look for in new furnishings — beauty won’t be highest on the list. Cleanability is.

Buyers today would be wise to choose products that repel germs and dirt not only to avoid cross-contamination, but also to lessen cleaning needs.

Experts also say to consider replaceable components, like seat cushions or window treatments.

“Your housekeeping staff knows how time-consuming it can be to replace traditional curtains in resident rooms,” observes Jim McLain, general manager, construction specialties, for Eldercare Interiors. “Today, easily removable curtain systems, unique track solutions, and even disposable curtains for high-contamination areas are all making it easier than ever to keep privacy curtains clean and free from potentially dangerous pathogens.”

2Durability and safety go hand in hand.

Durability typically works in tandem with safety. Experts say products that don’t easily peel or show physical damage are likely to be more easily maintained and cleaned. Examples include acrylic polyresin materials in hard surfaces, non-fabric lamp shades that repel dust, and impervious fabrics such as vinyl and leather that don’t harbor moisture and odors.

Of course, the level of resident acuity is a huge factor, according to Jamie Thorn, national sales manager for Forbo Flooring.

Facility operators often overlook critical safety issues for slippery surfaces such as vinyl planks. So-called “transition strips” connecting areas between carpeting and wood, for example, also can create opportunities for falls, Thorn says.

Adds Mark Huxta, director of sales, healthcare, for Ecore, the key to selecting the right surface is choosing one that absorbs impact while safely redistributing energy.

Other considerations: minimizing volatile organic compounds to ensure cleaner air, avoiding casters on tapered legs and choosing chair arm heights that don’t squish seniors’ forearms under tables, says Melinda P. Ávila-Torio, senior associate and project manager for THW Design Interiors.

Owner-operators should never overlook safety attributes when choosing furnishings. “Sometimes, the greater costs of ownership come when a piece of furnishing fails or leads to an infection,” Thorn adds. “Understand the liabilities that come along with not taking care of furnishings and other elements in the physical space.”

3Emphasize staying power at every turn.

One way to extend the lifespan of expensive furnishings is choosing appropriately sized items. As Ávila-Torio advises, for example, go into the showroom with average resident seating dimensions and a general idea on the types of assistive devices they use to get around. Don’t be afraid have residents test chairs. Ensure that products don’t require harsh chemicals and cleaning methods. Sketch out floor plans, including widths of corridors and other pathways, where new furnishings will go, she adds.

All too often, busy staff and cognitively challenged residents overlook how their actions can cause needless damage and premature wear on things like wood tables and finely appointed chairs and sofas.

Some would be surprised to learn how infrequently buyers inquire about reupholstering options, says Christy Evangelista, marketing communications specialist for Open Road Furnishings. Furniture that can be re-covered is considerably less expensive to own in the long run. Evangelista also encourages acquiring metal seating (or at least chairs with metal legs) in high traffic areas. A quick look at furnishings today reveals some very un-institutional looking metal components.

Many vendors like Ecore offer so-called “performance layers” on hard surfaces to preserve the item’s beauty and durability, which, according to Huxta, significantly reduces maintenance and cleaning costs.

4Consider routine, not frequent, maintenance.

Good quality furnishings and other physical elements require routine maintenance that ensures hygiene and cleanliness, aesthetics and structural integrity without costing a great deal in time and money.

Properly trained housekeeping and maintenance staff can go far in ensuring longevity, but attrition and turnover can impede that.

“A lot of folks may be left worrying about how to easily clean a floor rather than clean it correctly,” Thorn observes.

Huxta and Evangelista both espouse the value of furnishings that can be cleaned easily and effectively with the simplest of solutions — often just warm water and mild soap will do, for example. But everyone advises closely following manufacturers’ recommended cleaning methods. 

Mistakes to avoid

—Choosing beauty over brawn. Well-built furnishings that are safe and easy to clean and maintain trump aesthetics every time.
—Exposing expensive furnishings to unnecessary abuse. Furnishings will take a pounding from wheelchairs, canes and walkers. Simple communication and planning will go far.
—Overlooking safety. Too often, buyers forget to ask questions about potential
hazards that could lead to injury and liability risks.