Blog, Senior Living Facilities

The Power of “What If” In Designing Senior Living Facilities

June 27, 2019
A nurse is helping an elderly woman at a dining table.

I’ve attended many conferences in my 15+ years in the MEP industry — the most recent being this year’s LeadingAge North Carolina annual conference and trade show in Myrtle Beach, SC.

Of the hundreds I’ve attended, this conference was different.  Its theme — What If? — struck a chord with me.  They challenged attendees to dig deep and consider the following:

  1. What if we were more passionate?
  2. What if we embraced new Ideas without any reservations?
  3. What if we freely considered different perspectives?
  4. What if we empowered our teams to take more strategic risks?
  5. What if we could achieve more with new partners?
  6. What if we had confidence to step outside the box, out of our lane and beyond our comfort zone?
  7. What if we dreamed without limits?
  8. What if we focused on our missions instead of our tasks?
  9. What if we helped people find passion and purpose?
  10. What if we made life better for older people, our staffs, our communities and our state?

These questions resonated with not just me, but all attendees.  After all, senior living design is by far a very personal project.  It’s more than just a building.  It’s a connection you have, however remote, to a loved one in this stage of life.  It hits home.

The idea of embracing new ideas without reservations affected me the most.  It shined a light on the importance of what we do and the work we have yet to do.  In an industry where many (myself included at times!) stay within their comfort zone — hesitant to move beyond the “tried and true” — it is imperative that we embrace new ideas — especially when developing housing options for seniors in the middle-income bracket.

While most retirees prefer aging within the comfort of their own homes, care needs or the desire for community involvement have driven seniors to look at alternative housing options.  According to financial magazine Barron’s, “It’s the bet many real-estate developers made as they fueled a senior-housing boom in recent years, especially targeted at higher-income seniors.”  It’s also been a driver in the uptick in government programs and subsidies available to assist lower-income seniors with their housing needs.

Sadly, many seniors fall squarely in the middle of these two groups, earning too much money to qualify for assistance, but not enough to afford the level of care they need and deserve. In fact, a new study conducted by researchers at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and funded by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, estimates that more than half of middle-income seniors in the U.S. will not be able to afford the costs of assisted living, even after committing 100% of their annual financial resources and/or tapping their existing home equity.

This data is alarming as it demonstrates a critical gap in the future housing needs of the more than 10,000 baby boomers that turn 65 each day.  Fortunately, there’s a surge among developers, owners, and architects who are answering the call for new housing and care services specifically tailored toward this middle market. It’s equally encouraging to see a similar upward movement in the development of all-inclusive communities, one such example being Charlotte’s own, Aldersgate.

As MEP consultants, we play a pivotal role in these emerging trends.  Together with our partners in architectural design, we can utilize our specific knowledge to not only address the needs unique to the facilities’ occupants and owner, but to help lower costs as well, embracing new ideas in senior living design without reservation in order to provide the things that matter most: security, affordability, a choice in care, a feeling of home, and a connection with community.


About VP Engineering
VP Engineering is a dynamic MEP design firm offering engineering expertise in senior living, multi-family, hospitality, medical, industrial, retail/commercial and educational markets worldwide. With experience in a wide range of building types, our MEP engineering services help keep projects on budget and achieve your goals. Learn more at