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Ep. 127: Shannon Remaley

Principal and senior living practice leader at Meyer Architecture + Interiors, Shannon Remaley, discusses practical changes that the senior housing industry has recognized and adapting to during the pandemic. She shares her approach on wellness and holistic design.

Meyer Readiness Design study

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We have an exciting show related to design and infection control today on the program we have Shannon Remaley. She is with Meyer out of Pennsylvania. Welcome back to the program. 


Shannon: Thank you so much. It’s great to be back here with you guys.


Lucas: Yes. We’ve had you on before to talk about design and architecture and it’s always been a really good conversation. Right now, the state of affairs with COVID has everybody asking a lot of different questions about: how do we address infection control from a design and physical plant perspective? You guys just put out a great study that goes through in detail, five main points that people can take away and learn from to help implement this in their own communities. Why don’t you talk to us about it?


Shannon: Yeah, no. Great. Thank you. I’m happy to be here and share. 


So yeah, as a pandemic swept in, it became apparent to us very quickly that we really needed to look and evaluate how we were designing for senior living. Obviously across the board design and architecture is evaluating what we’re faced with. With senior living specifically, as we all know, has been very much impacted by what’s happening around us. 


So what we put together is a package we’re calling Readiness Design, and as you mentioned, it’s, it’s five categories and it’s really awareness, applications, a toolkit that we can look at in making our communities safer and healthier for residents and caregivers. 


So what we looked at across the board was layout flexibility in technology, building systems, wellness, and materials and finishes. So, and I think we’ve put it together. It was really important to us, not not to make a knee jerk reaction, right? So there’s been a little bit of that in, in the industry as well. But we really wanted to not, not sacrifice the identity of the senior living industry and what it’s worked so hard to become over the past 15 to 20 years. But really look at it based on experience research, and most importantly, what we’re hearing from our operators and what they’re facing out there and what the market’s looking for.


Lucas: Yeah. That’s great. And talk to us, you said something there that kind of peaked my curiosity to not depart from what senior living has been rooted and  grounded in. And what do you mean?


Shannon: Yeah, I think, I think the industry has made such progress and really basing its model off of hospitality and residential versus an institutional model. And it’s very easy when you’re looking at something like infection control to default back to that institutional model. But I think one of the things that we’ve all learned is that there’s, there’s many facets to our health. There’s, there’s mental, there’s social and there’s physical. And, and right now, of course, that, that’s where we’re focusing importance on as, as we’re in a certain situation right now. But we just want to look at buildings holistically and just not lose the progress that the industry has made and that the progress that we all hope to see for it in the future as well.


Josh: I’m glad you brought that up and I don’t want to chase too many rabbits here cause we would, we would have an extremely long show. We could talk a long time, but I, on that point, I’m wondering if you have any opinion as I I’ve been talking with a lot of regulatory agencies, our industry’s kind of a state-regulated business for the most part. And obviously even the regulatory agencies are scrambling to determine what should be minimum standards for these communities for infection control that obviously impacts all areas from clinical to life safety code and things like that. 


And sadly just in my very limited influence, I think one of the easy, easy buttons for regulators is to tap the language button and try to basically pull things out of much more higher acuity settings that are much more sterile institutional environments and drop that in. And that’s kind of a fear, I guess I have as an operator to the point you made of like, wow, we’ve worked so hard to have culture change and impact the environments. And how do you think we’re going to navigate through this with the regulatory agencies? How’s that going to be impacted?


Shannon: Yeah, I think the industry has a big hurdle as far as just education. I think for us that live in senior living, we understand the different continuums, right from skilled to active adult assisted memory care, independent. So I think education to the market on the different levels of senior living, I think will be very helpful and us navigating the regulations that come after this. I know we have some clients that are, are making that a priority and just their marketing efforts just to educate the public on, on what senior living is. It’s become apparent as more people are talking about it, how it, how it’s all lumped together into one category to the general public. But I think educating will, will help us move forward in that path.


Josh: I agree. Well, what we’re hopeful for is even conversations like this on the Bridge the Gap platform with experts like you and providing that can, can help spread. So it seems like there’s- if we wanted to bundle a couple of groups out there in senior housing, as far as owners go and developers, there’s those that have communities that they’re operating and they’re, they’ve been working nonstop to care for their residents, to do the best infection control they can. And they’re thinking of: what do we do to make our communities better? 


And then there’s this group of people that maybe had projects in construction or they’re in the design phase and they’re thinking, oh my gosh we need to rethink and reevaluate a lot of things. So take us down some of these areas that you’re leading people down, these different thought paths through those processes.


Shannon: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the first things I’ll touch on as far as layout goes is just flexibility. And that’s certainly not a new term we’ve been promoting that in design for a long time, but it’s, it’s, it’s like now that next layer of flexibility that maybe we weren’t thinking about before. When designing buildings, we’re always looking at smaller rooms connected to become one larger room, but now maybe those smaller rooms are next to an elevator that go down into the commercial kitchen that allows flexibility for multiple smaller dining venues in the future. And so it’s really just adding that extra layer of, of flexibility into the layouts that we’re looking at. That’s something that we’ve been evaluating with a lot of our clients on our newer construction projects. 


I think it’s interesting because projects we’re designing now that are new construction, right, they might not open for about three years. But we’re in this mindset right now. And so I think again flexibility is going to be key as I think the only constant right now is that everything keeps changing. And so that’s something we’re looking at. 


Also flexibility to outdoors as people became very isolated. I think one of the things that I know I felt for them was just the lack of access to outdoors and how important that is and how we can really prioritize the ability to have that access to outdoors besides on that first level. If we have to cluster people in smaller groups or in their apartments, how are we going to enable them to have that? I just think there’s such a health benefit to that access to the outdoors.


Josh: That is huge. So can you give us any kind of behind the scenes you talked to us about maybe the dining and elevator spaces, but what are some practical ways that people are thinking about how to connect people to the outdoors?


Shannon: Yeah, so, there’s very simple ways that we could do it with, with flexible doors that open up to the outdoors. But I guess when you get up to those upper levels is where it tends to get a little more challenging. Again, not necessarily new ideas as far as adding outdoor decks on those upper levels of green roof, maybe even for independent or active adult looking at maybe Juliet balconies. I think it’s just reprioritizing where we want to spend our budgets I think is what we’re seeing a lot of, a lot of the nice to have, have become must haves of as we’re navigating this. And so the priorities I think, have really shifted on where the budget goes and brainstorming those ideas.


Josh: Have you seen a shift to thinking about I hear a lot of talk, but I don’t know if it’s, if it’s impacting design yet, but I hear a lot of people talking about all the HVAC and things like that to where basically their their ability to be flexible, to isolate units to isolate wings and things like that. But to be able to do it in a, in a manner that it doesn’t feel like an isolation wing in a much more institutional setting. Are you all dealing with that actively?


Shannon: Yeah. So we’ve been working with our engineering partners to evaluate, that’s one of, I think one of the biggest things people are looking at right is just the quality of the air, the air circulation. And so we’ve been working with our engineering partners on that and what that looks like. And it kind of dovetails into technology a little bit because I think the building systems have a lot to do with technology. And one of the investor partners of one of our developer clients, I was talking about them today and they said, ‘it’s almost like this has pushed us into 2030 right now.’ And I thought that that was such a great statement because it has. It’s things that people were like maybe down the road now we’re like, yeah, we need to do that. The market’s expecting that of us now. And so I think we’re seeing a lot with that with building systems and technologies.


Josh: Well, on the front of technologies, that kind of leads me to thinking also on the socialization piece, the, maybe people refer to it as resident engagement. Obviously in a community setting, that’s one of the big factors for a long time that we in the senior housing business, we know that that’s a big advantage of moving to a community is to prevent isolation, which is what happens in the home with COVID, it’s kind of like the great equalizer, right? Because we’re trying to get people to stay more isolated, which is, can be a little counterproductive to what we’re promoting. But are there ways and creative ideas that you’re seeing emerge where we can still, even by the design of the building or design of the technologies kind of reimagine what resident engagement and technology looks like in senior housing?


Shannon: Yeah. I think, we’re looking at, so the technology, as you said, it has, technology is a funny thing, right? It has the ability to disconnect people as well as connect to them. And I think right now we’re seeing how much technology can connect people across the board, right? Especially in senior housing. So we are looking at how do we build the ability to have technology into spaces that we didn’t do before? 


Even something as simple as having a telehealth room having the flexibility to have that and inside the apartments, having the technology in there that allows people to connect, even if they’re isolated in their rooms. And then looking at the next level of technology and how it can all connect together and talk to each other and really getting into that, the complex system of that as well. So yeah, we’re looking at it. As far as the social engagement, there’s a lot of potential for how it can keep people connected.


Josh: How are you guys interacting right now with your clients? I mean, I think a lot of at least when I’ve been designing communities in the past, it’s so many meetings face to face and so much. How has technology equipped you guys to interact and interface with the designs of buildings right now or redesigns of buildings?


Shannon: Yeah. I mean, I spent more time on Microsoft teams and Zoom than I’ve ever known possible as I’m sure most of the world has. And so we’ve been using that a lot to connect with people. The world is slowly starting to open up a little bit more and having more in-person collaboration we think is so important, but we have, we’ve been using, we’ve been using the technology to move forward with buildings and designs. 


We use a lot of visualization at our firm to help clients envision what spaces are gonna look like. And so that’s been very helpful for us as well in this environment that we still have that tool where even if we can’t be in front of them with materials and finishes, we’re really able to fly them through a space and they can envision it. So we’ve been fortunate that we’ve been doing that for some time and it’s been very helpful during this time of separation.


Lucas: So, let’s kind of round out the show. What are the- another maybe one or two categories that you mentioned in this document that are important for our listeners?


Shannon: I think wellness. I know we’ve talked about in a couple ways, but wellness encompasses so many things physical, mental, social, and one of the things that I’ve really seen get a lot of attention is the well building standard which really excites me as a designer. I believe in a lot of what it promotes. And again, I think that falls into the, it was a nice to have, and now people are looking at it a little differently. 


And depending on where you fall with wanting to actually be certified, but just the principles behind it are getting a different level of attention. And I think that’s really exciting and we’re seeing that really heavily talked about right now compared to before the, before the pandemic. And so I think that that’s exciting.


And it’s not only helping residents. There’s a lot of operational components to the wellbeing standard, and it has so many benefits to our caregivers, which I think we’ve all seen how important and valued they are through all of this too. So with all of that spending 90% of our lives indoors to really think about the impact that the built environment has on our health and people really paying attention to that now is I think one of the positive that’s come out of a very, very negative situation. 


Josh: Well, my question from, I’m trying to think about, we’ve got a diverse audience and there’s probably some folks out there that you just peaked their ears, right? And they’re thinking, Oh gosh, I love that, but what is it and how difficult is it to achieve this well-build standard?


Shannon: Yeah. So I think probably most of our audiences is familiar with Lead, right?Which is very focused on buildings. And the Well Building standard is more focused on people. And so it’s something that is very, not just design and construction, but also operationally based. So it’s really a collaborative and comprehensive rating system. It’s a living certification that happens every three years. And so it’s, it’s an investment and, and, and creating a healthy building and an environment. 


One of the interesting things, the well building standard has done, they’ve created a COVID task force, which Meyer was fortunate to have one of our principals architect’s sitting on. And they put together a health rating system as well in response to COVID. So there’s also that layer on top of it that I think has peaked interest and in our clients as well.


Lucas: Sure. Well, and pivoting off of that to Josh’s point is that many of our listeners they may be in operations, they’ve kind of got their head down into the hard work that they’re doing and hearing these terms, like the built environment, well build standards wellness, impacting- wellness and design impacting actual operations. And that may be some new concepts to some people considering that the majority of the industry works in a building that was probably built between 1990 and 2005. So give us a, maybe two or three practical examples of wellness as it impacts operations and design.


Shannon: Right. So I think something I could focus on as far as wellness, in fact, in impacting operations, the webinar series has a whole nourishment component to it, it’s solely focused around how you promote healthy healthy habits surrounding eating and nourishment. They also have components around fitness, right? So those are very operational based that you don’t necessarily need a new shiny building to make happen. You can kind of look at those principles and how you’re operating your building and how you could promote those healthier habits. 


On the design side, the light section has a lot of great components in bars circadian rhythm lighting, which I know is something I’m very passionate about. I think that our lighting not just access to natural light, but our indoor lighting really plays a big part and how we respond in an environment. And so that’s something we’re actually implementing on two projects we’re in design right now with and so kind of giving a little bit of a design piece of it and a little operational piece that there’s a wide range of different things that you could look at to implement in your building depending on new construction or existing existing building.


Lucas: Okay, great examples. So what to, to finalize what’s the last category that you think is most important to talk about?


Shannon: We talk a lot about building systems, which are so important, but when you look at a senior living building and what people are interacting with on a daily basis, it is the materials and finishes and some of what are smaller elements when you’re putting a bigger building together, but have a huge impact on people. 


And so I think in our materials and finishes, we really looked at what we want to do to promote health and safety. But again, not revert to that institutional model. We don’t want to go back to an all vinyl and hard surface community. And so we tried to identify different areas, whether it’s countertop surfaces and high touch surfaces, how we can do that. No touch elevators or doors or plumbing fixtures, right? 


So those things that people are touching and interacting with every day that make them feel a little bit safer as they’re traveling from their apartment down to dinner and stopping to visit with a friend. Those are the things that people are interacting with every day that can really make them have a little more peace of mind that their community’s making those steps to keep them safer. So the things we touch and feel every day.


Lucas: Those are great points, Josh. I mean just it’s sometimes when there’s a term, how do you eat an elephant, right. One bite at a time. And some of these things like that, you’re mentioning Shannon- this can be overwhelming, but if you boil it down to, okay, well, what are the simple, most basic aspects of the daily life of a resident side of congregate care? And let’s talk about those, let’s analyze those things: handrails, elevators, dining, things that happen every single day. Those are really great points. And I think they’re great starting points on a conversation so that people can start to eat that elephant one bite at a time.


Shannon: Yeah. I think we’ve invested in really being in community, sleeping over at them, traveling passes in them And so you really start to highlight those things as new side, like, what is the average path of travel through a community in a day, a resident, a caregiver too, what does that look like? And you start to really see what they’re interacting with.


Lucas: Exactly. Well, and then that goes back to your wellness and design all of those aspects. Josh, any thoughts? 


Josh: Yeah. Well, I’m just sitting here thinking, gosh, it’s overwhelming to think about eating an elephant in general. So I’m just so glad we don’t have to eat these elephants by ourselves, right? So the partnerships with folks like you Shannon out there that do this every day, work on design. So thankful for your time, what your team is committed to every day with coming alongside our industry and helping us be better and coming out through a difficult situation, even better on the backside. So thanks so much for joining us today.


Shannon: No, thank you so much for having me.


Lucas: So Shannon, I know our listeners are going to want to get their eyes on this document. So how can people connect with you and Meyer?


Shannon: Yeah, so we have links on our website to this document that people can go on and click on and take a look at and read through some of the elements and additional that we talked about today.


Lucas: Great, great. We’ll make sure that Sara, our producer grabs that link. And so people that are listening right now, you can just scroll right down on your screen, into the show notes and grab that link and connect to that document as well as Shannon and Meyer. 


Thank you so much for your time. Shannon, appreciate you being back on the show. Hopefully we get to see you at another conference as soon as possible. Whenever that’s safe to do.


Shannon: I know, I know we’re all missing the synergies of conferences, so it’s great. You guys are moving things along on the podcast.


Lucas: Yeah, you got it. 


Well, Josh, as we say on most of our shows right now is that we’re really rooting for all the caregivers out there right now. A lot of these communities, executive directors, the administrators, they have not had days off. This has been months and months and months of lock down for them where most of the world is trying to get back to whatever they feel is normal while these communities are really still isolated. So our thoughts and our prayers go out to everybody that is doing this work. We’re rooting for you. We love you. We care about you. You are not forgotten. And we just hope that this has been some education and some inspiration for you today. Thanks everybody for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap. 


Ep. 127: Shannon Remaley