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by Ken Blair on Ageing Agenda May / June 2017 issue

Standalone facilities upgrade for survival


Small and single-site centres are turning to refurbishments and renovation to ensure their viability in a competitive, consumer-led market. DARRAGH O’KEEFFEE reports.

Facing an increasingly consumer-led and market-based system, many small, standalone aged care facilities are worried about how they’ll compete with larger providers that are offering the latest amenities.

For many, a major renovation has become a key way of taking up the challenge, says architect Ken Blair, who has been working with several community-based centres.

The massive growth of home care has seen the virtual disappearance of low care in residential care and the implications for older buildings are considerable, often with bathrooms and bedrooms that are too small to accommodate the equipment necessary to meet residents’ increased needs, says Blair.

“Despite residents coming in at a later stage, they and their relatives are demanding not just a care environment but a lifestyle environment, which will retain as many elements of their prior lifestyle as possible,” he tells Australian Ageing Agenda.

While there has been a trend towards larger developments to achieve economies of scale, there is also a push back against institutionalised models, which could bode well for smaller centres, Blair argues.

In response to the changing resident profile and demand for higher accommodation standards, well-resourced larger organisations have been able to adjust and respond quickly – ensuring facilities offer cutting-edge design and amenities.

Without such resources, many community-based organizations have been slower to respond, but many are now catching up, Blair says.

“The threat of new aged care facilities opening up near to existing community-based providers has been a major incentive for those organizations, particularly in rural areas, to re-evaluate their purpose and take required action to ensure long-term viability.

” This has involved looking at expansions to become a more viable size, often in conjunction with redeveloping the existing building in a cost-effective way” he says.

Keeping Community Connection

In terms of design responses Blair says that community-based organisations are keen to retain and capitalise on their key point of difference – their identity.

“Most established community-based organisations have a long history of connection to the local community.

“Many are recognising that this community ownership is their major brand value and it needs to be retained and strengthened in any overhaul of the facility.

Community involvement in redevelopment processes ensures “contextual responses” that respond to the region, he says.

For instance, attribution walls acknowledging individual contributions to the home are being incorporated as design elements, as are naming rights to components or wings.

“While front reception areas were once seen as gateways to the facility, dominated by glassed in areas and offices, it’s now recognised that they perform an important role in welcoming visitors and in acting as a transition space for residents greeting guests.”

Use of spaces

Renovations are also seeking greater linkages to gardens and courtyards to broaden the living experience for residents, Blair says. And bathrooms are being reconfigured and enlarged to meet the need for greater space.

Many major refurbishments involve the introduction of a range of interior treatments, including patterned wallpapers, stencilling and artwork that reinforce the use of individual spaces, such as cafes or craft spaces.

“A sense of fun is re-entering the living environments of the residents,” he adds.

Meeting today’s standards

In addition, smaller facilities are using major renovations as an opportunity to implement the latest sustainability measures, says Blair.

“Buildings that were built 20 years ago often do not satisfy current sustainability requirements in terms of energy use or efficient clinical or service models.

“Inefficient use of natural light and heating and cooling systems impact dramatically on daily running costs as well as residents’ quality of life,” he says.

Inefficient building layouts that are ill-suited to current resident and staff needs can lead to higher staff costs and lower levels of service, Blair adds.

Keeping ahead in competitive market

According to fellow architect Lara Calder, refurbishments have become a key way of adopting a more contemporary look and keeping ahead in the competitive market. With the policy removal of low care/high care distinction in 2014, older buildings are seeking to adapt in order to provide more streamlined care, she says.

“Refurbishments briefs generally include a need for the delivery of additional services and communal activities. For example, we are designing more facilities with in-house hair salons, therapy pools, cafes, wellness rooms and retail stores,” Calder tells AAA.

Like Blair, Calder says that a better connection to the outdoors and garden spaces is a key driver for many facilities seeking to upgrade.

For instance, her refurbishment at Southern Cross Village in South Coogee, NSW, included an activity courtyard and enclosure with “operable glass walls” to create a flexible winter garden space. This would increase scope of use in variable weather conditions.


Caring for older, frailer residents

The need for older building stock to support an increasingly older, frailer resident cohort is another driver behind many renovations, says Calder.

Her work at Kildare Court Aged Care Facility in Maroubra, Sydney included specific improvements to ensure the building could accommodate ageing in place and the increasing proportion of high-care residents.

Like the Southern Cross Village in South Coogee, Calder’s project brief at Kildare Court also sought to improve opportunities for residents to enjoy outdoor activities.

Lynden Aged Care in Camberwell is turning to renovations to ensure long-term viability.

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