Code variances in senior living design

March 20th, 2011 11:41 pm

I have just set through my first session of Environments for Aging Conference in Atlanta, GA. Eric S. McRoberts w/RLPS Architects took the audience on a journey through the history of nursing homes, healthcare codes, and senior needs reflective of the ever changing culture.

To understand the struggle with current healthcare codes and their often irrelevance in a senior living setting, one must remember that it was an unfortunate accident and the death of 15 residents in the mid nineteen hundreds, that drove the law makers to adapt more rigorous safety regulations in neighborhood, “mom and pop” nursing homes. Certainly this regulation was better than none, but it set a hard to break standard, that currently stands in a way of truly functional design solutions for seniors.

Some of the points made by the presenter were:

– grab bars and their code specified locations are non-functional especially when assistance in necessary (bathrooms)

– doors swings, in general, even when providing code specified clearances, are problematic (bathrooms, entrances)

– insufficient clearances between countertop and upper kitchen cabinetry, leave an underutilized and underutilized storage within an accessible reach zone of a senior (kitchens)

– suggested interior temperature per newest Energy Efficiency regulation, is not sufficient in creating comfortable environments for seniors

– suggested light levels per newest Energy Code are significantly lower than an elderly eye requires

Of course, many positive changes in the industry are also taking place, and giving hope to the renewal of the entire industry. It’s the culture of the senior facilities that will make the most impact:

– today’s care is more resident centered, responding to their physical needs, but also mental support, emotional fulfillment, entertainment, nutritional and holistic wellness plan

– team approach to care, and family-like relationships

– no more centralized staffing, care and living; the floorplans are opening up, decentralizing the staff and giving them more opportunity for interaction with residents, creating a tighter bond, respect and responsibility for all

– optimizing quality of life becomes the purpose, and not efficiency and quick turnaround of patients

Organized groups and national associations (AARP, AAHSA, CAST, IFAS etc) as well as seniors themselves must help support the movement to update the healthcare codes and provide regulatory variances pertaining to senior living facilities. Their input and involvement may mean the difference between the road to better, need-driven design as opposed to hospital-modeled sterile environments.

**slides come from the presentation file, all rights of which belong to the speaker.

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