News & Events

Long-term care facilities ripe for disruptive change

August 24, 2020

The evolving COVID-19 pandemic has placed a spotlight on long-term care facilities. More than ever before, it’s clear the environments we have created for our aging population aren’t conducive to this new world order. Breakthrough ideas emerge during times of uncertainty, and long-term care facilities are ripe for disruptive change.

It’s worth asking: How can we shift the healthcare paradigm for our aging population?

We sat down (virtually, of course) with Healthcare Principals Ron McIntryre, Diego Morettin and Rob Swart to discuss how we can rethink the spectrum of long-term care.

Ronald B. McIntyre Partner, Architect
Rob Swart Partner, Architect
Diego Morettin Partner, Architect

So how might healthcare providers leverage design to meet patients at the point of their greatest need?

Ron: It’s important to remember that these places are not just care facilities, these are peoples homes. The answer lies in going beyond one overarching solutions for patient’s wellbeing. It’s imperative that we design to ensure each patient has a sense of belonging and trust. If that’s apparent, the facilities occupants will have a high quality of life.

Rob: I think the real interesting thing is COVID-19’s going to disappear, but the pandemic has started some trends and some conflation which we should take advantage of. As we strive to make cities healthy places to live, work, and play, it is our responsibility to design healthcare spaces that are convenient, efficient, and accessible.

Some examples of this include designing resilient spaces considering air handling system, ventilation and secured sources of air. How can we better understand how to design spaces for seniors as their their sensory perception evolves? It’s common among seniors to have glacoma, or detioration of the eyes and can’t have high contrast differences in colors. How can we as designers support that?

Ron: In Australia, for example, the general model is the facilities are in the community. They’re in among residential neighborhoods. They may have six to eight residents. So the scale of it is much more like a larger house than it is an institution. So, if I’m worrying about keeping six to eight people safe in a COVID environment in the spread of germs or the spread of in this case a virus, it’s much easier to do that in a facility with six to eight people than it is in a facility with 90, 200, 300 residents.

What is the aging in place model and why is it relevant?

Diego: The aging in place model allows residents to stay in one place as they grow older. Change and new environments are difficult for our older populations. The aging in place model creates campuses that start with seniors in unassisted living, who transition to assisted living and finally move to long-term care. This relives some of the stress and anxiety around moving as you get older, and your needs are met as their health evolves.

Ron: Clifton Place in Edmonton is a great example of that. It’s actually a high rise tower. The lower six floors plans are run by Rivera Care, which is am assisted living provider. So they’re running the six floors with assisted living.

Rob: Norwood is another example of aging in place. It’s almost a hospital with more residential setting. Residents move into the facility as functioning adults and slowly transition to more care and support. The design will stand the test of time – classic finishes with a connection to light and the outdoors.

How do we approach this going forward?

Ron: In Canada, residents transition to assisted living or long-term care are there because they need support. They can’t take care of themselves, it’s not safe for them, or it’s too much for the family. And I think we have to have some real honest and thorough discussions on what that means to us in Canada. As a society, it’s important to take a hard look at how we take care of our most vulnerable populations.

The result was a new 650-bed student residence, which includes 71 of the innovative nano” micro-suites, being built on a podium above a bus exchange.  

The team’s drive to innovate the nano suite was fuelled by a keen understanding of UBC’s ongoing demand for efficient and affordable student housing options –  we knew that any opportunity to squeeze more beds on site within the approved building envelope would be of interest.   

Developed in close consultation with the students and stakeholders, the suites contain the essential elements for student living in a tiny footprint, including a specialized space-saving Murphy bed that folds up into a desk.   

This is a great example of flexible design, and delivers on all three factors listed above.   

1) User-oriented: the nano suite caters to undergraduate students who need affordablet private living space close to campus. The nano suite occupants can access generous amenity spaces within the buildingand are close to transit, groceries, etc.   Being integrated into a mixed-use environment, the Exchange residences offer all the support needed for a successful undergraduate environment – and more!  

2) Site: The UBC site created an opportunity to build housing and transit in one place, addressing two important factors in the UBC campus experience.   

3) Client needs: UBC was able to gain efficiencies by providing more beds in a similar footprint. There is a shortage of affordable housing on campus and nano suites allow institutions to maximize bed counts and provide a compact way to deliver a solitary living environment. This is paradigm shift in land use, where no one gets the short end of the stick.