EFA Spring Summit: Pandemic Response Panel Recap

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

EFA shared a recap of the experiences and pandemic response of three teams of designers and senior living providers. WesleyLife’s Janet Simpson joined Pope’s Christine Soma on the panel to share their experiences. Here’s the article shared on EFA’s site of the challenges and lessons learned.

EFA Spring Summit: Opening Panel Shares Design Lessons From the Pandemic

By Anne DiNardo, Executive Editor | April 27, 2021

The event kicked off with a Design Trends Roundtable, moderated by EFA Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Kovacs Silvis exploring recent award-winning senior communities, including the care models and design features, and insight into how these industry-leading projects responded to COVID-19.

The panelists included Grant Warner, principal at HKS; Russell Crews, president and CEO at CC Young Senior Living; Jay Weingarten, partner at RDG Planning & Design; Deanna S. Beins, administrator at Menno Haven Rehabilitation Center; Christine Soma, principal and architect at Pope Architects; and Janet Simpson, regional vice president of network operations at WesleyLife.

“Life turned upside down on March 16, 2020,” Crews said, referring to the day that CC Young Senior Living initiated its COVID-19 protocols at the high-rise CC Young, The Vista community in Dallas. Those efforts included creating controlled access to the campus, adding a screening area, increasing supplies of personal protective equipment, and educating staff on the procedures and systems in place so that they’d feel safe and comfortable coming to work. Eventually, the community also temporarily shut down admissions, started taking daily temperature checks of residents, and suspended campus marketing. All those steps, he said, cost the community $5 million on an annualized basis last year.

At Menno Haven Rehabilitation Center in Chambersburg, Pa., Beins said some of the features incorporated into the 44-bed community as part of its WELL certification were an asset during the pandemic, such as the use of UV light to treat air in general spaces to reduce mold growth. “[That] gave us confidence that we could have quality air,” during the pandemic, she said. Additionally, the community’s vestibule and large lobby were able to be utilized as a screening area and family visitation area, respectively. And the large, operable windows in the resident rooms not only allowed for window visits with family members but brought fresh air into the rooms.

Simpson added that some of the existing design elements at Brio, a WesleyLife Community for Healthy Living in Johnston, Iowa, lent themselves to supporting operations during the pandemic. Specifically, the community’s focus on wellness means that its has multiple outdoor spaces—many of which were able to support resident activities safely during the pandemic, such as outdoor exercise classes (with residents wearing masks and seated far apart on chairs).

Some of Brio’s dining areas included more private dining settings, which could support social distancing requirements for residents while allowing them to dine outside their units. “It allowed us to be flexible with that,” Simpson said. Also, utilizing the garage spaces attached to each household, the community adapted them into climate-controlled visitation spaces for families as well as storage areas for much-needed personal protective equipment.

Asked what lessons they’re walking away with from the past year, Simpson said she’s looking at things with a different eye, such as considering how to close off a room, how an area can be divided, and how access is handled. Soma at Pope Architects said she expects a lot of conversation around HVAC systems to support closing off or designating an area for quarantine while keeping the residents and staff safe.

Crews added that high-rise communities face unique challenges. The Vista houses 219 units over multiple floors with four elevators to move residents and staff between floors, and the lack of a separate entrance/exit created issues when the community needed to move a COVID-19-positive resident.

Warner at HKS said he’s looking to get more multipurpose spaces located in the front of communities to provide added flexibility to handle changing needs, such as screening or visitations with family members.

Overall, the panelists agree that communities need to balance safety measures with maintaining a homelike environment for residents. “I think that’s the challenging area everyone is walking through right now,” Weingarten at RDG Planning & Design said.

For more on the Environments for Aging Spring Summit, click here.