Designing spaces with infection control in mind

Gracewell  |  September 8, 2020

Phil Andrews – Senior Development & Property Director, Gracewell Healthcare

The Covid-19 pandemic has dominated both the professional and personal lives of everyone in the United Kingdom since the virus was first detected on our shores in January this year. Six months on, and after weeks of lockdown, we are beginning to hear some encouraging news from several vaccination trials against the virus. And, with the race for a vaccine which can be mass-produced gathering pace, there is the emerging possibility that an effective treatment could receive emergency approval as soon as the end of this year.

Yet while many are optimistic about a quick breakthrough in a vaccination, the reality is that we have a long wait until the population is vaccinated at a level which will achieve a degree of “herd immunity”. At Gracewell Healthcare, we are responding to this new normal by maintaining our current Infection Prevention Control protocols. What is more, we are also preparing for a future which acknowledges that viruses of a similar genetic makeup to Covid-19 may become more prevalent over the coming decades.

As part of this response, we are changing the way we approach the design of our buildings, systems and behaviours. A useful way to visualise this change is to imagine that, embedded within all our designs, we have an ambition to create a force field which is similar to Earth’s atmosphere around our homes. Of course, it is possible that some meteors (or in this case, some viral matter) may get past our defences, but we have a holistic and absolute commitment to protecting all of our residents and team members.

While this may seem like an all-encompassing and dramatic shift, we are building into this new approach a commitment to ensure that these changes are subtle, considered and allow our buildings to remain homelike. Key to this balancing act is the increasing use and embedment of technology in our care homes. As an example of this, the use of integrated online communication through a variety of platforms will continue to expand in our homes. This expansion will improve connectivity between team members, residents, and their families through a range of multipurpose consoles. We understand that we must be incredibly agile when communicating the latest proposals with our homes, so we have worked hard to improve our messaging. We know that better connectivity and stronger internal communications will mean greater efficiency.

The use of such consoles will also become increasingly more reliant on voice activated services, creating contactless pathways by decreasing the need to physically interact with such technologies and reducing the ease of viral and bacterial transmission. This method of control, along with Near Field Communication mobile applications on handsets, name badges etc, will also be used to open power operated doors, lifts, and other internal structures.

Where physical contact on communal surfaces is unavoidable, we are also considering introducing further antimicrobial and nanomaterials which act as a hostile environment for bacteria and viruses. These are used on working surfaces, door handles, furniture and equipment and other mechanisms which require physical touch. In addition, we are also investigating Ultraviolet Light, where this intense radiation is precisely targeted at areas which may be harbouring viruses and bacteria, as a method of infection control. What is more, the use of automated machines to sweep and clean floors is a well-practiced method in hospitals, and we will be integrating this technology into our future designs in some form.

Access control into our buildings is a key part to our infection control in combination with promoting contactless pathways. On top of our current practices, we are trialling facial recognition software that identifies our team members, reads their temperature and if in tolerance, will allow the automated doors to offer entrance. In addition to this, our new online appointment booking system will be able to control the number of visitors to an acceptable level for the home. The use of QR codes has also been proposed and form part of the trial for visitors and contractors and the like.

The introduction of Tele-Med services is also set to grow considerably. This will reduce the need for residents and their supporting team members to travel to medical centres or hospitals for assessments. This welcome development will help keep our residents out of environments where harmful viruses, such as Covid-19, and bacteria may be present.

Another vital aspect to ensuring the safety of our residents is effective and hygienic heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. While we don’t yet know enough about how aerosols interact with each individual environment, we do know that systems must be designed to deliver as much fresh air into our buildings as possible, ensuring there is no recirculation of air where possible.

Furthermore, at Gracewell Healthcare care homes, we are fortunate to have larger spaces than many of our competitors. These bigger spaces allow us to implement effective social distancing measures while maintaining a comfortable environment. These spaces also allow us to create new areas, such as Infection Control Zones for staff changing and testing.

When thinking about spatial arrangements within buildings, there are several new considerations to tackle prevention and outbreaks if they do occur. We are at the beginning of new significant growth phase to build Gracewell Healthcare homes. With that in mind, our new builds and our major refurbishment programme - which is ongoing - are set to introduce new measures.

There are new spaces and functions that will need to be adopted. Already mentioned above will be additional space to assist team members in providing clinical changing and testing facilities together with PPE storage. New visitors’ spaces are already in motion to provide a safe environment for loved ones to meet up. Additional doors and screens are being considered in strategic locations to aid the potential for isolating areas should an outbreak occur. These are just a few of the considerations currently under review and as knowledge increases there will be many more new ideas.

Overall, the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus should not be seen as a ‘flash in the pan’ event. Rather, the effects of this pandemic will be felt for years to come, especially in the health and social care sector. At Gracewell Healthcare, we are actively implementing and investigating new ways of protecting our residents and team members as we face this new reality. And, with various innovations and technologies becoming increasingly available, there are a multitude of ways of adapting care homes to match this task, while maintaining a warm and homelike environment.

For more information about Gracewell, click here: