Study looking at links between LTC home design, outbreak

·2 min read

A new study will look into how Canada's long-term care homes can be redesigned to better protect residents from future disease outbreaks, including lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Monday, Ontario's Ministry of Health had recorded 2,081 deaths among long-term care home residents, accounting for more than 60 per cent of the provincewide death toll. The deaths of eight long-term care home workers have also been linked to the pandemic.

I really feel that design, design of the physical environment, can make an impact here. - Amy Hsu, Bruyère Research Institute

While hospitals learned a great deal about infection control from the SARS epidemic, Chantal Trudel, an associate professor with Carleton University's School of Industrial Design and a member of the research team, said COVID-19 has shown long-term care homes are still playing catch-up.

"Unfortunately, the pandemic brought those vulnerabilities to light," Trudel told CBC's Ottawa Morning.

Shared spaces problematic

Unlike hospitals, long-term care homes are designed around gathering spaces for residents, like large dining rooms and theatres for watching movies.

"Designing these shared areas is particularly important to look at," said Trudel.

While it's important to maintain a friendly, home-like atmosphere — these are living spaces, after all — there may be ways to limit the number of residents using these rooms at any one time.

Graham Hughes/Canadian Press
Graham Hughes/Canadian Press

The team will also look at ways to make it easier for staff to don and doff personal protective equipment safely. Currently, only a small fraction of long-term care home staff — just eight per cent — receive training on disease prevention, said Amy Hsu, a scientist at Ottawa's Bruyère Research Institute who's also taking part in the study.

"So we need to think outside the box," Hsu said. "What are some other ways or strategies that we can [use to] prevent the transmission of the virus in long-term care homes?"

Gathering evidence

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Trudel, Hsu and the rest of the team will be conducting their research remotely. They'll interview residents and staff, and collect photos of environments workers at the homes find particularly risky, especially during an outbreak.

Using architectural blueprints, the research team hopes to work out where improvements can be made.

Both Trudel and Hsu said it's heartbreaking to see how some long-term care homes have been ravaged by COVID-19.

"I can't wait to start the study for that reason ... because I really feel that design, design of the physical environment, can make an impact here," Hsu said.