Changing paradigm: What is wellness?

One of the leading experts in environments for seniors that promote wellness is Cornelia C. Hodgson, partner in charge of architectural firm Dorsky Hodgson Parrish Yue’s (DHPY) Senior Living Studio, Cleveland, Ohio. Long-Term Living’s Executive Editor Maureen Hrehocik discussed various aspects of wellness with Hodgson.

Hrehocik: What should the idea of “wellness” encompass?

Hodgson: There are two concepts of wellness to keep in mind—physical and behavioral. When thinking about a person’s physical health, there needs to be a change in philosophy—a change in focus—from illness to wellness, and from a person’s abilities rather than their disabilities. In short, ask what a person can do, as opposed to what a person can’t do. The second viewpoint goes much beyond the physical ability of an individual. It’s a more expansive view, one that encompasses six dimensions of wellness: social, physical, intellectual, vocational, emotional, and spiritual. To that I’d add a seventh dimension, which is environment—both interior and exterior (one’s access to nature.) What a person is surrounded by directly impacts that person’s mood, health, spirit—their entire well-being.

Hrehocik: How have wellness centers at long-term care facilities evolved over the past five years?

Hodgson: They have evolved dramatically. Five years ago the term “wellness center” was often the new name for “the clinic.” Today’s centers offer an incredible expanse of amenities because residents are demanding choices—it’s a consumer-centered philosophy. Beyond the traditional wellness center that includes workout space, exercise rooms, and an aquatic center, they now look at all wellness dimensions and include a broader scope with spas, designated dining areas, flexible meeting spaces, retail spaces like a bookstore, Internet cafes, and chapels or meditation spaces.

Hrehocik: What are the main considerations an administrator or owner has to take into account before embarking on creating a wellness center either as a freestanding, new structure or in an existing facility?

Hodgson: The first consideration is a vision/mission statement around which you’ve created consensus. This includes consensus from residents and staff, but most importantly, buy-in from your board of trustees. The second criteria is to always measure your programs against that vision statement. I’d also suggest an examination of how integrated—or segregated—your wellness philosophy is. This is especially true for freestanding and existing facilities. For example, do nursing home residents also use the aquatic center? Do your facilities allow the staff to use the pool or equipment, along with the residents?

Hrehocik: How does one assess if having a wellness center will make financial sense?

Hodgson: According to The National Whole-Person Wellness Survey, a study DHPY co-created, the impact of the wellness program is felt in many ways such as improving the quality of life for residents and assistance with staff retention, which speaks to the financial bottom line. The study also clearly demonstrates that having an active wellness center has a beneficial impact on the organization’s image on the outside community, both in influencing a person’s initial decision to join the CCRC, and the ongoing satisfaction of residents and their family members. So, in addition to lowered staff turnover and happy, healthy residents, you get the added bonus of a greater market share, seen in a residence with few or no empty units, and potentially, a waiting list.

Hrehocik: Besides the obvious benefits of improved physical health, what are some other intrinsic benefits of a wellness center?

Hodgson: Assuming your center encompasses all six dimensions of wellness, the benefit is a community that cares about the residents’ well-being, which is a tremendous cultural benefit. This is the optimal environment—transforming theory into practice—when communities embrace whole-person wellness, integrating it into every aspect of living.

Hrehocik: When are “alliances” with other facilities advisable?

Hodgson: If your vision statement includes a focus on connecting with the greater community, alliances with other facilities are imperative. Which organizations you work with should be driven by the residents’ needs and interests. Many CCRCs are collaborating with local universities to offer courses and lectures. A religion-based community may want to strengthen its ties with other religion-based organizations, for example. Linking with local medical institutions or even health spas are potential sources for a mutually beneficial relationship. When an alliance reflects your strategic goals, combined resources make for more expansive, enriched programs for everyone.

Cornelia C. Hodgson, AIA, is partner, Dorsky Hodgson Parrish Yue, Cleveland, Ohio. She can be reached at (216) 464-8600; or

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