Evolving design will be vital in future-proofing aged care facilities post COVID-19

By Simon Drysdale, Group Director – Seniors Living & Aged Care at ThomsonAdsett

The aged care industry faces special challenges as Australia looks to the uncertainty of future waves of COVID-19 and the need for sustained vigilance.

Having navigated an initial crisis response, industry providers must now consider how to sustain their organisations under a protracted period of social distancing, heightened infection control measures and a broader economic downturn.

It is conceivable the aged care industry will be among the last to fully resume normal operations. Indeed, it is likely that the aged care industry will be substantially different by the time the pandemic is declared over.

A successful road through and then out from COVID-19 requires providers to reassess their operational and strategic context.

With the assistance of aged care specialists like ThomsonAdsett, providers can draw from an accumulation of internal knowledge acquired through participation in the development and interpretation of regulations over many years.

What exactly is the ‘new normal’?

While there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, both large and small providers have the option to architecturally evolve their operating models to ensure they are sustainable under current and future conditions.

Aged care providers should be alert to opportunities for service improvement and business sustainability while continuing to manage risk and support residents, families and workforce.

For aged care residents and their families, the health impacts of the disease itself have been complicated by the consequences of social distancing, alongside greater difficulties in accessing other health and wellbeing needs.

This shift in community expectations has the potential to create real positive change to the overall experience and wellbeing of aged care residents.

In order to achieve this, there is a need for a holistic review and response to aged care settings.

The aim is to develop and implement infection control principles while offering design solutions that allow people to maintain social interaction.

Success will require providers to be agile and remain vigilant to COVID-19 – supporting aged care residents, families and staff – while simultaneously adjusting operating models and response strategies.

Small scale housing

Approaches to ensuring quality in aged care have been heavily debated in Australia.

While there has been considerable focus on reviewing regulatory approaches to quality assessment, internationally there is growing interest in the effects of various physical environments and models of care on the quality of life of residents.

“Clustered, home-like models of residential aged care lead to better quality of life for residents.”

The above statement is one of the key findings of a Flinders University study that compared the approach with standard Australian care models.

Overall, it found that home-like models, which allowed for smaller groups of people, are delivering better health benefits and lower hospitalisation and emergency department presentation rates for a comparable cost.

Notably this model involves more space per resident, fewer residents in close contact and fewer changes in staff.

The success of home-like models does not simply come down to the physical environment, but also the social model of care and approach to staffing. The model enables the facility to control and maintain movement management between agency and permanent staff during a pandemic to ensure the health of workers is kept top of priority.

As industry experts, ThomsonAdsett willingly participates in discussions with clients to help improve their accountability in respect to compliance in a complex industry.

A strong belief in social responsibility and corporate participation has given us a unique understanding of how costs are changing and how new regulations will translate in the industry.

We are passionate about finding creative solutions by challenging physical design parameters to keep building costs down.

Solutions need to reflect an understanding of the industry’s business drivers and operational parameters.

We realise that with constant cost pressures facing the industry, seniors living providers strive to increase profitability in operations by increasing efficiencies.

Looking to the future

The road ahead for the aged care industry remains uncertain, complicated by long-standing operational pressures and the prospect of major and much-needed reforms.

Providers with strong balance sheets and an agile strategy will be ready to benefit from the current situation where declining property and construction costs, and heightened merger/acquisition activity will yield new opportunities for those able to think innovatively and move quickly.

As the Flinders University study suggests, alternative models of residential aged care, particularly those like small scale housing that have evidence of better outcomes for the residents, will become the new normal in an industry that is future-proofing its facilities for the wellbeing and safety of its residents.

To provide more background on this subject, we have created a presentation which looks at evolving design principles in seniors living and aged care in a post COVID-19 scenario.

To view please click here. To have a more technical and detailed discussion about your unique needs and possible solutions, please feel free to get in touch with myself or my team.