Thoughtful Design Elevates the Senior Living Experience for All Users

OZ Architecture Principal Jami Mohlenkamp, head of our Senior Living practice area, recently presented at the 2016 Mainstreet Design Summit where he shared fresh ways to think about and enhance the design of rehabilitation facilities for all users—not just patients. Mainstreet is the nation’s largest developer of short-term rehabilitation facilities, and OZ works closely with the company on innovative designs for many of its properties.

In Jami’s presentation, he walked attendees through detailed research conducted by OZ Architecture’s Senior Living practice group, exploring the needs of several populations, including patients, staff, visitors and passersby. Considerations included where and how each audience currently utilizes spaces in short term rehabilitation facilities, and the ways in which design and architecture could elevate their experiences.

While Mainstreet is best known for its focus on post-acute rehabilitation facilities, the concepts Jami shared in his presentation apply across the entire spectrum of senior living communities. In fact, Jami’s presentation and OZ Architecture’s in-depth research offer important insights into the best ways to build and design senior living, skilled nursing and short-term rehabilitation facilities that inspire comfortable and positive experiences for everyone who interacts with them.

As it stands now, most senior living, skilled nursing and short-term rehabilitation facilities are primarily developed and designed with patients’ needs in mind. However, Jami shared that considering more than just the basic functional needs of these other audiences should be a key consideration in the early design phases, as doing so can ultimately improve the patient experience.

For example, when senior living staff—who are the face of the organization and typically work long and demanding shifts— have amenities incorporated just for them, their ability to provide the highest level of care improves. By working to understand upfront how and where different employees spend their time, who they spend it with, and their most common needs, design and architecture elements can be developed to increase their job satisfaction. Some specific accommodations that OZ found would be particularly appreciated by staff included places to relax and retreat, such as a separate dining area, access to appealingly landscaped outdoor space, and a small employees-only locker room where they can freshen up, shower and change clothes during or after a long shift.

Giving special attention to visitors and how to make their time with loved ones more enjoyable and convenient can be hugely beneficial to patients as well. Appealing conveniences for visitors translate into more frequent and longer visits, which studies have shown is key to boosting patients’ overall feelings of happiness and sense of well-being. Some suggestions Jami made were incorporating a variety of dining options instead of the standard, traditional cafeteria. Having diverse choices—a coffee bar, buffet, formal dining room and/or a casual, family-friendly deli—creates an environment that accommodates the individual tastes of visitors and provides more places where they can spend time with patients. Things like a small business center where visitors can work quietly and a suite for overnight guests also help address their needs and can make their time on site less taxing or stressful.

Jami also pointed out that even area residents and passersby who may never have occasion to actually come inside should be considered in the design and architecture process. Well-designed exteriors inspire and enhance the entire community and the general public is far more likely to have a positive response to the building if both the architecture and outdoor landscaping elements are visually interesting and inviting. Jami suggested adding interest by incorporating varied types of lighting, using diverse landscaping as a way to create both privacy for the patients and visual dimension for passersby, and integrating different exterior building materials, textures, colors and window sizes.

The best-designed senior living environments take the needs of all users into consideration and strive to go beyond the basics. And, ultimately, that will better serve everyone who interacts with the space and lead to a desirable community for patients, better working conditions for staff, and more enjoyable visits for loved ones.