Big isn't always better

Care homes in Alberta used to be small and intimate — dating back to the rural care homes in the early 1900s that were often attached to churches, nursing posts, and even private residences. However, between 1965 and 1990, as the aging population grew and began to congregate in regional and urban areas, governments began to construct larger-footprint buildings to accommodate 50 to 100 residents. By 2005 to 2020, mega-facilities came into fashion, with some developers building care homes that could accommodate up to 400+ residents.

However, as the prevalence of dementia continues to grow, governments and care home operators are now recognizing that large-footprint spaces can feel overwhelming to residents with cognitive challenges. This has led to some innovations in ‘right-sizing’ larger care homes to create smaller, pod-style living units within the larger footprint. This is achieved by:

  • Creating distinct units or wings within a larger structure, complete with their own recreational, meeting and dining spaces designed for smaller cohorts of residents.

  • Clustering multiple small-footprint structures within a larger ‘campus’ — where most daily living activities are held within the small structures, with occasional larger gatherings in shared, campus-wide spaces.

  • Developing connecting walkways (indoor and outdoor) between multiple smaller structures within a campus.

Moving back to smaller care homes

CHAA has been a strong advocate to funders regarding several changes that will help move our sector toward smaller footprint care homes:

  • Dedicated grant funding to retrofit, redesign or replace the large care homes that were constructed between 1965 and 2000. Many of these homes are now at the end of their useful life but are situated on large real estate holdings in prime and inner city locations. Not-for-profit operators are keen to repurpose and modernize these high-potential buildings.

  • Operational funding that supports the higher costs of a small-footprint care environment. For example, providing meal services in six or eight ‘pods’ costs considerably more than congregating 200 residents into a common dining hall.

  • Flexible space design is an essential element of new building design and retrofitting. For example, moveable walls allow amenity spaces to serve multiple purposes or to be expanded or contracted to accommodate either singles or couples in private rooms.

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