The WELL Building Standard was launched in 2014 as performance-based system to measure, certify and monitor features of environments that impact human health and wellbeing. Managed by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the standard’s 10 concepts of air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind and community have been used by commercial building owners and managers and school districts to create more effective environments for occupiers.
The IWBI recently announced that more than 600 senior living properties worldwide are enrolled in or have achieved the WELL Health-Safety Rating or WELL Certification.
Rachel Hodgdon, IWBI President and CEO, said that senior living properties have always emphasized health and well-being. “But the COVID pandemic sharpened that focus and showed us that our commitment to well-being at a deeper level can be life-saving,” she told Connect CRE. “I think that’s one of the reasons we’re seeing more leadership in the sector and a desire to be more accountable and deliver on evidence-based and science-backed practices.”
While senior living facilities encompass a broad range of property types—everything from age-restrictive apartment complexes to memory-care centers—Hodgdon said that WELL is applicable to them all. “The kinds of health interventions being deployed will be similar to other sectors, but how those interventions are applied might be different, because seniors have different needs when it comes to their health and well-being.”
For example, she went on to say, elderly individuals might require wayfinding lights at night, while active design features to increase physical activity might be different in a senior living facility than in an office or a school.
Retrofits and upgrades to meet WELL requirements can also represent a challenge, especially among older properties. HVAC systems can be difficult to upgrade and expensive to replace. “In these cases where larger, more expensive upgrades may not be possible in the near term, there is tremendous value in taking measures to optimize across operational policies and maintenance protocols,” Hodgdon noted.
She indicated an increased interest in WELL from senior living operators. Some, such as Enlivant, Sunrise Senior Living, Inspir Carnegie Hill, Jewish Home of Rochester, Anthem Memory Care, the Views Senior Living of Marion and international facilities operated by Pacific Home Care and Lendlease have achieved either Well Health-Safety Ratings or WELL Certification. Other organizations, such as Sabra Health Care REIT, are encouraging operators to pursue WELL efforts as part of their ESG initiatives.
Whether senior living centers are pursuing specific WELL ratings or certifications or want to better the environment for their residents, Hodgdon suggests a people-first approach to any strategies along these lines. “When we put people at the center of our design and operational decision making and when we put people at the center of our policies and our programs, not only do they thrive, but so does the business,” she said. “Today’s senior living owners and operators are contending with record levels of stress, burnout and turnover and WELL is an antidote to those challenges.”
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