Casting a critical eye on our environments for aging

The long-term care industry has advanced dramatically in recent years when it comes to innovations in healthcare and living environments for our aging population. From the most luxurious continuing care retirement community to the Medicaid-dependent skilled nursing facility, LTC developers and owners are abandoning the traditional institutional building styles that have constrained a resident-centered care model and are embracing innovative designs and operational models.

Today, I’m visiting St. John’s on the Lake in Milwaukee, which is hosting our annual Environments for Aging design contest judging event. Here, 20 LTC designers, architects, gerontologists and academics are pouring over the plans and submissions of 59 senior housing projects from around the country, a third more than we received last year.

These judges are a demanding group. They’ll vigorously lobby for those projects that best represent the ideals of senior housing and brutally dismiss those that don’t live up to their exacting standards. Things I as a lay person would never consider—like the impact of reflective flooring on the aged eye, amenities that support the resident’s autonomy or mechanical systems to produce a healthy indoor air environment do not escape their expert attention.

Fancy furnishings and glitzy finishes are useless and dare I suggest cruel embellishments if they aren’t backed by a culture of resident-centered care and support. I know of upscale, physically beautiful LTC communities where residents are bored, listless and even ignored. And I have visited dated and worn facilities where dedicated administrators and staff manage to create an environment that brims with energy, warmth and life and where the residents are engaged and attended to with respect and love.

Ideally, we’d like to see the built environment serve and support the evolving resident-centered care model. It will be up to the owners and operators of these award-worthy projects to do just that.

Topics: Design , Executive Leadership