Multi Residential Senior/Assisted Living

Renovating an Operational Assisted Living Facility

by Tom Quinlan


Award winning renovation at Atria Bay Spring in Barrington R.I.

There are renovation projects and then there are renovation projects in a fully operational assisted living facility. Same work but a completely different animal.

Back in 2002, the big initial wave of construction of new assisted living facilities settled down and it was time to look at renovation. Our company was working for a national provider of assisted living facilities on a small exterior project when we were asked to develop a scope for complete interior refurbishment.

My comment was “Scope is simple—you’d better consider process.” The facilities manager stopped dead in his tracks and asked “Why?”.

The answer to that question is also simple. Unlike hotels or dorms or apartments, assisted living facilities are 24-hour-a-day functional facilities. There is no “off time.” So we sat down and began to develop a strategy for the renovation.

If you look closely at an assisted living facility, it resembles a small, contained town. This particular renovation would be affecting the lives of 120. So, how do you do that safely and with minimal disruption to the daily activities of residents and staff? The most obvious answer is communication.

There has to be a communication on all levels. For starters, pre-construction signage to let residents know what is coming. Second, getting the residents and staff used to the idea of a renovation.

One strategy that’s particularly effective, and was with this project, is holding a “town meeting” to talk about the renovation and what the residents and staff could expect. This meeting gave the residents the opportunity to meet us and the contractor and to learn firsthand about the renovation.

Following the meeting, well appointed construction signage was ordered that would fit in with the facility décor. Staff and resident counsel received daily updates on progress from us and the contractor. These updates provided a forum to let them know what was coming.

Midway through the project, we conducted a “dusty shoe” tour to walk interested staff and residents safely through some of the areas under construction and show them what we were doing. We made an evening of it with pizza and dessert.

Developing rules for our subs was also important. Most of these were common sense but the environment and the delicate nature of the facility dictated that common sense be codified. For example:

No radios, no loud talking, company logoed polo and T shirts, badges, sign in, recorded safety meetings, strictly enforced working hours, and schedules distributed and signed off on by all parties—schedules were not theoretical but expected.

Most importantly, we based our selection of subcontractors on the quality of the people as much as the bid. Were they professional? Were they people who would smile and give a warm hello to a passing resident while taking pride in their work?

Finally, when all was said and done, we held a grand reopening event where all residents, families and staff were invited as well as town officials and the press. At the end of the day, residents and staff felt as much a part of the project as those of us working on it.

It’s a given that the work has to be done well, safely and on schedule—all for a fair price. But there are many more things that need to be taken into consideration. Specifically, the process.

Over the past 12 years, our company has successfully renovated more facilities than perhaps any other firm in the northeast. It is my belief that the process is as important to that fact as the finished product. No matter how good your company might be, the best finished product is for naught if the residents and/or staff are put out and their routines greatly disrupted. And that’s something you can never lose sight of if you want to remain competitive in your efforts to land assisted living, senior living and healthcare renovation projects.

Tom Quinlan is the president and founder of South Coast Improvement.