As we all know, care homes have been hit terribly hard by the coronavirus. Although health and hygiene have always been vital in care home design, it’s time we reflected on potential improvements that can be made to reduce risk for residents and staff. Balancing the benefits and potential dangers of human interaction is something we’ll be struggling with for a long while after COVID-19, but people will certainly be more cautious in the future.
Easy clean textiles
Cleaning is essential in any healthcare environment. Viruses and bacteria can survive on any surface, and textiles can harbour many dangers. Companies such as Agua have been producing anti-microbial fabrics specifically for the hospitality and senior living sector for many years. These specialist fabrics are no longer only available in waiting room blue or mint green. Their Aura UV collection is really colourful, and paired with their faux leather (which also comes in a range of bright colours), you have a vibrant furnishing design that is practical and hygienic. If you want something more traditional, Sunbury’s Darwin Aquaclean is a lovely woven upholstery fabric that can be supplied at full healthcare specifications. We have always specified ‘healthcare’ fabrics for care homes, but often just for residents’ furniture. It now seems essential to ensure that every item of fabric in a care home should be of the highest hygiene standard, and indeed, we expect these fabrics to become more popular in office and retail spaces too.
Protecting communal areas
The areas where people gather, especially with visiting friends and relatives, should be considered with extra care. These communal areas are often busy, and staff may have less control over attention to hygiene. Many residents, especially those with dementia, favour routine and like to have their own chair in the residents’ lounge. With additional health concerns, it may be sensible to extend this idea to all residents so that they generally do not share furniture and potentially spread germs. Most homes have separate toilet facilities for staff, residents, and visitors. This should be standard, and visitors should be catered for totally separately in order to protect the residents.
Signage is important, and gentle reminders of visitors’ responsibilities to the health of the residents can promote sensible behaviour. As designers, we’d be following the risk assessment of the client, but we’d recommend identifying routes through communal areas to ensure a flow of people. Having separate entrance and exit doors to a space reduces contact between different groups. This involves clear signage and perhaps a redesign of the space.
Utilising external spaces
The drab patio around the back could be repurposed as an inviting meeting place for residents to entertain their visitors. The evidence would suggest that coronavirus cannot spread as readily outdoors, so take opportunities outside where you can. Modern awnings can create really attractive sheltered spaces and, although not suitable for all, could provide valuable fresh air for some residents. We suspect that when homes are fully open to visitors again, most will implement a staggered system, and combined with reducing the quantity of visitors in one room, these areas can be well managed.
Innovation that may help us create a healthier future
In just 3 short months, interiors manufacturers have made some extraordinary developments. Experimental products have been pushed through and come to market, and existing products have been adjusted to cater for the post-COVID environment. Similarly to the textiles mentioned before, we expect other specialist products to become more mainstream, for example Resincoat’s Antibacterial MRSA Resistant Floor Paint. London-based experience designers Bompas and Parr recently launched a competition calling for ways of rethinking hand-washing and had some intriguing responses including seaweed handwash capsules. The creative brains of the world are responding to the problems we’re facing, and we’re looking forward to the innovations they will bring to protect the residents and staff in of care homes in the future.