Elder-Friendly Ambulatory Healthcare Facilities

| March 23, 2017

by Richard B. Borrelli

The fact is, those of us designing spaces for the elderly, even those who qualify for AARP membership, don’t know what it’s like to be 80 or 90 years old. Often, it’s not until we help our aged parents navigate the system that we see how much details matter when designing ambulatory healthcare facilities.

Join me for a fictional visit to Mom’s primary care provider.


Pen Bay Medical Center’s patient registration / Sandy Agrafiotis

As someone with 20-plus years practicing healthcare design — over half it on the client side — I nonetheless continue to learn. Some of what I’ve learned lately is due to a 94-year-old ball of fire named Mary Jane, my mom.

Pen Bay Medical Center’s reception in Rockport, Maine / Sandy Agrafiotis

Mom gave up driving upon entering assisted living. This means one of us “kids” drives her to her appointment. Her provider is conveniently located near other frequent destinations, allowing us to accomplish other tasks that day.

Once there, clear walkways keep her safe; in wintertime, geothermal snow melt and convenient storage make critical maintenance easier. The entrance doors do not require daily workouts to open; this one is automatic, helping us get Mom and walker inside. It’s raining today, but she can wait under a portico for curbside pickup once her visit is done.

At check-in, Mom benefits from well-designed acoustics that allow her to hear the check-in instructions, and appropriate lighting for filling out her intake form. Mom needs chairs with arms that are not too “cushy” or she can’t get out! This provider has them. As a healthcare architect, I know they are upholstered with easy-to-maintain antimicrobial fabric. Soothing colors and interior finishes make this modest space sing, helping her feel more confident and relaxed during those stressful “remembering all my meds” moments.

Mom may not notice the well-designed back-of-house, but it’s critical to her interaction with her caregivers. She likely is not aware of design decisions such as identical exam room layout, on-stage/off-stage separation of public and caregiver areas, and ergonomically correct workstations. But all that and more will affect the quality of her care today.


Mary Jane Borrelli with granddaughters Kristen (left) and Rachel (right) / photo by Robert Borrelli

Richard Borrelli

Richard B. Borrelli, AIA, NCARB, is Healthcare Studio director and a firm principal at WBRC Architects Engineers.

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Category: All, Contributor, Senior/Assisted LIving

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