Q: So many conversations throughout the pandemic centered on protecting vulnerable populations, with elderly populations at the top of the list. What shifts have you seen in the sector over the past two years that have impacted how supporting living environments operate? Now that mandates are lifting across the country, do you foresee any newly established design standards carrying forward?
NP: The pandemic affected us all, but none harder than our aging population. These senior and supportive living facilities and communities had no choice but to adjust. Most notably, these facilities had to shift from a community model to needing to isolate residents. This impacted their workflow and of course, the day-to-day lives of residents. Prior to the pandemic, we were already seeing facilities trending towards a scaled down size and/or number of residents per wing. By providing amenities to smaller groups, facilities can isolate areas while still retaining a sense of community. The demand and need for technology also became more prevalent during the pandemic. Again, we saw this prior to the pandemic, but it became critical to identify ways to safely provide communication with family and provide patient care without leaving your room.
As the mandates begin to lift and we come together again, my hope is that isolation will be a thing of the past. However, the concepts of interacting remotely and smaller community living will likely stick around.
Q: You have been a part of the industry for more than 20 years. During your tenure, would you say the pandemic has had the largest impact on the sector or is there an equivalent event or advancement that shook up change?
NP: The senior living sector is always evolving, but usually this change is gradual over time. The pandemic immediately forced most senior living projects to be put on hold and the design world to stop and rethink their approach. At GROTH Design Group, we took a step back to reassess our active projects during the early days of the pandemic — we listened to our client’s challenges and what they were going through. These challenges centered around security and health screening needs upon entrance, supply chain issues and necessary emergency back stocks, and thinking through how to maintain providing all the usual amenities and basics during a health crisis. The realities of an international health crisis came into focus over the past two years, and the impacts were huge. I believe this mark will be left on the sector.
Q: When and where to move a loved one into a supported living or memory care environment can be a challenging and emotional decision for many individuals. Is this something you keep in mind when designing with and working with facilities? If so, how do you find it impacts your work?
NP: The design of these facilities must start with how the resident feels and interacts with the space. You also must consider and understand possible challenges these residents are facing as they move in — Does the resident have memory issues, vision problems, or hearing loss? All of these must factor into not only how to lay out the space, but what you put into the space. For example, a certain carpet pattern might be visually confusing to someone with vision problems. For residents with memory issues, we must ensure they know or recognize their room from someone else’s room. All these unique considerations must be factored into our design. If the resident or their family does not feel comfortable or safe with their surroundings, they are not going to want to stay.
Q: Aging populations are increasingly accustomed to technology. How do you see supportive living environments leaning more into technology for residents going forward? And what are some practical examples facilities should consider when looking to appeal to residents and improve quality of life?
NP: As the world around us grows accustomed to smart technology, senior and supportive living designs must follow suit. Aging populations today have lived in the world of smart technologies for some time, and it is no secret that these amenities make our day-to-day lives easier. Technology is a great tool we’re using to enhance the functionality and ease of these environments. Some examples include the use of smart thermostats to control and change room temperatures throughout the day, and circadian lighting systems throughout facilities that react to daylight. As I mentioned before, there is a great demand from residents to stay connected with people, and care providers, even when they are in isolation. This in turn requires strong Wi-Fi systems to support demand. We have also seen many facilities bring up the use of telemedicine in design conversations.
Q: We regularly like to state that our firm serves those who serve others. You must especially feel this to be true in the senior living market – you play a huge role in ensuring the dignified service of aging members of the community. Can you explain your passion for the market sector and where it comes from?
NP: I worked on a lot of healthcare projects early on in my career. I would often visit healthcare facilities and witness families going through tremendously emotional situations and doing everything they could to provide the best care for loved ones. While I did not know what they were necessarily going through, I knew that I was there to provide a care space that could help. On occasion, we would hear stories of how a project we completed helped even a little. This always made me feel good and really fueled the passion I have for the healthcare sector. This feeling continued when I shifted to senior and supportive living. Many of these residents and their families are facing a challenging time and difficult decisions. I know I can help by, at the very least, designing a building that can make their lives a little easier. I have aging family as well and know someday I will be making these same complex decisions. Keeping that in mind really helps me think of who and what I am designing for.