The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unimaginable pain for many people, and laid bare the importance of rethinking how elderly care is delivered to meet new health and safety standards, while protecting the right to space, privacy and dignity.

Kirk Taylor headshot

In the wake of Covid-19, there is an opportunity to develop new care models that improve best practice.

The need to expand capacity is clear. Without establishing new facilities, the strain on services could be exacerbated in years to come, especially as Covid-19 exposes the health risks of high-density environments.

Even prior to the pandemic, expectations of elderly residential living were shifting towards new sheltered accommodation or retirement living facilities. Covid-19 has led to new health and safety standards that are likely to increase demand for facilities such as en-suite bathrooms. Such amenities could play an important role in mitigating against future outbreaks, while also addressing the need for more personal and private spaces within communal residential homes.

A trend towards de-densifying spaces could spur the creation of new, better-designed spaces with facilities such as living rooms and kitchens shared by small groups of residents needing more care than they could access if they lived independently.

The pressure on care home capacity and lack of suitable intermediary care between hospitals and nursing homes must be addressed. The number of hospital beds blocked by patients with no suitable care accommodation to be discharged to rose to a record high last summer. Without suitable accommodation allowing patients to regain independence safely, this ‘bed blocking’ will continue.

Old people covid

Source: Shutterstock/Alex Post

There is a growing dialogue about shifting from one-level approaches to extra-care housing that adapts to evolving needs and makes it easier to plan for a short period of isolation or more intensive care. This could also play a role in protecting mental health by providing a transition that mitigates distress or confusion.

There should not be a rush to deliver new nursing homes without careful consideration. Extra-care living creates a more empowering environment that encourages people to have as much independence and privacy as possible. But too often, nursing or residential homes on the edge of towns and cities can be alienating for older people. Carefully considering site location and layout of homes can ensure that older people stay connected to the wider community.

Covid-19 has shown us that the use of technology in care facilities is sorely lacking, with criticism of the sector’s ability to track data on the pandemic. Centrally held digital care notes, for instance, could make it far easier to track and share changes in a resident’s condition between caregivers. Virtual access to medical professionals could aid people managing long-term conditions, especially where they must maintain strict social distancing. Sensor technology, such as motion-controlled doors and contactless interfaces, could also encourage independence while minimising any infection risks at touch points.

The pandemic has enhanced the argument for extra-care facilities and the need to design spaces and leverage technology that improves residents’ health, wellbeing and dignity. It has prompted a new era for care, and developers must take this opportunity to deliver improvements and efficiencies.

Kirk Taylor is head of development at Kajima Partnerships