The pandemic has ravaged long-term care in the United States, Canada, Australia and the UK. Although the congregate long-term care population represents a fraction of a percent of the overall population, deaths among this group are 30, 40 and even 50% of the national totals. Among the reasons for this is the traditional, legacy design of facilities which feature double, triple and even quadruple occupancy rooms, and many –frequently small – shared common spaces – to name only a few. Such physical living arrangements enable the spread of microbes and make their control difficult in the extreme.
Government agencies are stumbling toward regulatory changes in attempts to wrestle with the design features that contributed to the rampaging infections, which ran through many nursing centers and congregate care facilities. Owners and operators, and the design professionals who work with them, are pushing back, citing unrealistic timelines, staffing requirements, costs and other constraints.
An example of this is occurring in Massachusetts, where the Department of Public Health proposed new standards regarding room occupancy and distances around beds. The draft rules suggested enhancing infection control by simply mandating that all semi-private rooms be reconfigured to expand the distance between beds to six feet. These regulations, had they been applied as written, would have been impossible to implement, and would have led to resident/patient displacement, further family distress, closures and lawsuits.
There needs to be an open dialogue about solutions that address the immediate needs, while preserving the very existence of the institutions and organizations needed to serve the most vulnerable in our populations. There are no pat answers; everyone engaged in the sector needs to be involved in the conversation to prevent lopsided, slapdash solutions that only lead to more – and possibly worse – problems.
Join us on Wednesday, February 24 at 12:00 PM EST for Design Dinosaurs: Time to address the issues, as we begin to dig into these issues.
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