The Role of Nursing Homes Architectural Design in Mitigating the Risk of COVID-19 Pandemics: The Case of Slovenia
Currently, many older people live in institutions for various social and health reasons. In Slovenia, this proportion is almost 5% of the population aged 65 and over. In the COVID-19 pandemic, the elderly proved to be the most vulnerable social group, as they are exposed to a number of comorbidities that increase the risk of mortality. At that time, nursing homes represented one of the most critical types of housing, as seen from a disproportionate number of infections and deaths among nursing home residents worldwide, including Slovenia. During the emergency, a number of safety protocols had to be followed to prevent the spread of infection. Unfortunately, it turned out that while the safety measures protected the nursing home residents, they also had a negative effect on their mental health, mainly due to isolation and social distancing. It follows that especially in times of epidemics of infectious respiratory diseases, the quality of life in nursing homes requires special attention. In this context, it is also necessary to consider whether and how an appropriate architectural design can help mitigating the spread of infections, while at the same time enable older people to live in dignity and with a minimum of social exclusion. To this end, the present study examined 97 nursing homes in Slovenia, analysing the number of infections in nursing homes and their correlation with the degree of infection in the corresponding region in Slovenia. Additionally, 2 nursing homes were studied in more detail with the use of newly developed “Safe and Connected” evaluation tool, analysing the architectural features of each building. The advantages identified so far include living in smaller units, single rooms with balconies, the possibility of using green open spaces and the use of an adequate ventilation. Conclusions of this study are useful for further consideration of design of new nursing homes and the refurbishment of existing ones.