Design to futureproof and protect seniors’ living

(L-R) Jon Voller and Frank Ehrenberg from Marchese Partners
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A seniors’ living architect has called for the design of residential aged care to prioritise health and wellbeing through low density buildings with infection-risk and safe zones.

Marchese Partners principal Frank Ehrenberg suggests COVID-19 has highlighted opportunities to protect aged care environments from future outbreaks, as well as lifting standards in the sector.

“Building design and its operations must focus on resident health and wellbeing whilst also shifting to infection control and safe staffing,” he said.

Aged care has been in the spotlight amid the COVID-19 community transmission outbreak in Victoria. Residents are considered among the most vulnerable to the respiratory virus in society.

Almost 60 per cent of the deaths from COVID-19 in Australia have been residents of aged care.

Mr Ehrenberg, whose practice has specialised in aged care for the last decade, said good design included building planning and design that limited the number of residents per dwelling, resident health through social interaction opportunities, and supported staff arrangements such as sleeping zones.

Marchese partner Jon Voller, aged 77, said he had recently moved to a vertical village in Brisbane for the lifestyle and he had “no regrets”.

“Soon I will turn 77, so I am one of those “at risk” during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “Currently my children and grandchildren worry more for my health and safety than my wife and I do.”

He said strong and decisive village management, with systems and rules in place, was the most effective measure in containment but for aged care, more floor area per resident was required to allow for hygiene and social distancing.

The architecture firm released a position paper outlining the three zones a facility should have to manage risk.

A public and staff zone would offer PPE-donning and hand-washing stations, as well as staff and resident rooms.

Then an infection-risk zone would feature a visitor and returnee entrance, nurse room, waste disposal, laundry and resident rooms.

Finally, an infection-present zone would have a deceased exit, waste disposal, shared resident bathrooms, rooms and PPE zones.

“The design of future retirement living and aged care accommodation will need to safely maximise interaction with the outside world even during a quarantine event,” Mr Ehrenberg said.

“Future designs will need to seek solutions to safely maximise interaction with the outside world even during a quarantine situation.”

Mr Ehrenberg said other key features were areas able to be cordoned off, rooms that could be used for funerals with glass walls and external access for families.

While the practical aspects of aged care living are important, Mr Ehrenberg said health outcomes could only be achieved with the person firmly at the centre of thinking.

“Viral outbreaks make it difficult for the residents to connect and combatting loneliness and isolation will even become more challenging that it already is, so appropriate technology will become an even more important factor,” he said.

“Technology, communication and navigation have become more important in the design of later living environments.”

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