After witnessing the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the nation’s long-term care institutions, architects serving the industry are working frantically to come up with design ideas to help providers create safer spaces for residents, staff and visitors.

One action is the development of a new task force by the American Institute of Architects, which is studying best practices in conjunction with healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic. The AIA task force has devised a COVID-19 Frontline Checklist that provides strategies for addressing the new infectious disease challenges.

“This work supports the clarion call for clinicians to consult with design teams as essential partners. Together, they can translate medical and scientific knowledge into design principles,” says task force member Eve Edelstein of Clinicians for Design. 

Safe solutions

The Architectural Team of Chelsea, MA, is proposing new practices specific to skilled nursing and rehab centers. TAT principal Michael Liu and senior project manager Anthony Vivirito have devised some practical solutions to enhance compartmentalization and enable containment, limit transmission of airborne pathogens and improve safety.

“Before COVID-19, senior housing and assisted-living design strategies focused largely on lifestyle,” Liu says. “Now, in order to preserve market viability and ensure resident security in the face of heightened health concerns, leaders in senior living will need to think creatively about integrating safety measures without compromising the residential character and lifestyle experiences that residents and their families have come to expect.”

Reconnecting families

One of the most agonizing aspects of the pandemic is facility lockdowns that prevent family members from visiting their loved ones. So Vivirito is focused on helping operators design  new-style visitation suites to enable families and residents to reconnect.

“Visitation and interaction are critical to the well-being of long-term care residents, so we are collaborating to provide solutions to respond to this need,” he says. “To maximize safety for residents, staff and visitors alike, visitation suites will take the form of deliberately programmed rooms with some type of physical separation.”

TAT has started to design rooms for safe resident visitation by converting existing residential units into dedicated areas for visitors. This space is separated from the rest of the facility by a glass wall and it has its own HVAC system, along with an exterior door so visitors are able to enter the suite directly.

“On the interior, facility-facing side of the partition, we may see facilities start to utilize smoke compartments in order to physically segregate the resident population into groups of eight to ten residential units,” Vivirito says. “Potentially, each of these clusters could have a dedicated safe visitation suite.”