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Building for medical care and amenities

August 31, 2016
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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Senior living design has always been about trying to balance quality care and engaging hospitality, but the age of the resident population has a lot to do with which one gets the stronger focus, noted a panel of senior living executives at the recent InterFace Seniors Housing Southeast conference in Atlanta.

Obviously, hospitality aspects tend to matter more to lower-acuity settings like independent living, but senior housing designers often find themselves having to cater to both the elderly resident and the younger family members.

The quality of medical care may be paramount, but it’s what the son or daughter sees that influences the decision to move in, said Charlie Jennings, chief development officer of Harbor Retirement Associates, which operates 23 communities across four states. “What do the adult children see when they walk in? Seniors [that are] active and engaged or vegged out in a corner watching TV?,” he said. “You’ve got one chance to dispel all the myths they hear about assisted living, and if you do it well they’ll choose you. Ultimately you need to do both hospitality and care to be successful.”

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) need the widest range of design, since residents stay longer at this type of community than any other as they move through the care levels. That means offering a wide range of housing types, including housing for couples, notes Scott Gensler, vice president of business development at Erickson Living. “At some of our communities we have 60 percent couples, so that helps with the length of stay,” he said.

Perhaps the sector that has changed the most in recent years is assisted living, when there’s now much more emphasis on the “living” rather than the “assisted.”  

As an example, The Lantern of Chagrin Valley, an assisted living community in South Russell, Ohio, is designed to look like houses on a golf course, including carpeting that resembles greens and sand traps. The common spaces are clustered together in a “town center” complete with street lights, mulched indoor flowerbeds and plenty of amenities, including a barbershop, a ballroom, a movie theater, and beauty salon, a library and a fitness center. Gone are the corridor hallways and rows of identical doors. The Lantern’s design emphasizes conversations on the front porch, fun wayfinding and lots of things to get people out of their rooms and into the shared, social spaces.

“The lines are getting blurred. The assisted living product being developed now looks very similar to what we developed as independent living 10 years ago,” Jennings said.