As the COVID-19 pandemic challenged the world with two of the toughest years in recent history, long-term care and other healthcare workers were on the front lines of the pandemic and have experienced a whole new level of tension and demand in the workplace. In light of these challenges, senior living facilities and communities of care must provide a safe and healthy environment for residents and a positive work experience for nurses and other staff. Whether it is an independent living community, an assisted living community or a retirement home, the physical and emotional health of the nurse caregiver and other workers has a direct effect on the quality care and services provided.
The average age of today’s nurse is 52. Nurses work 10-12 hour shifts, cover many miles in a day and experience other physically demanding aspects of the job. These can lead to various injuries, including back and knee pain, bone spurs, and plantar fasciitis.
It is therefore essential that long-term care providers focus on and improve the ergonomic conditions of the staff environment, in order to improve productivity and retention. Improved seating, better work tools and new technologies all contribute to a more ergonomic healthcare space. The not-so-obvious contributor to employee comfort and health? Floor.
The topic of ergonomics in relation to flooring should be comprehensively defined to include comfort, fatigue, musculoskeletal strain and injury, and emotional stress created by noise in the indoor environment. Each factor contributes to or detracts from the overall well-being of the resident or staff member.
Injuries among healthcare workers rank among the highest by industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Musculoskeletal disorders account for one-third of all workplace injuries reported to employers, followed closely by back, leg and foot fatigue. This is one of the main reasons why designers, facility managers and administrators are paying more attention to creating environments that support the workforce, starting with the floor.
Flooring design and specifications
Most traditional flooring offers little or no ergonomic relief and can therefore contribute to staff pain, discomfort and fatigue. In the past, flooring performance was measured solely by durability, ease of maintenance, resident mobility and affordability. While these characteristics are still important, today we are entering a new era where expectations of a floor are changing and we are asking it to do more.
When building and designing a space, the work environment should be people-centric, not just product-centric. It should be about how flooring and other materials can improve the lives of residents and staff. This goal is achieved by specifying a flooring product that is designed and manufactured more appropriately for long term care applications.
Link between built environment, well-being
A clear relationship between the built environment and the effect of flooring on nurses’ well-being has been indicated in evidence-based design studies for healthcare facilities conducted by the Center for Health Design. These studies also reveal the effect on resident experience and satisfaction. A nurse who is not tired, stressed or in pain thanks to better ergonomics provides better quality care. It follows that similar benefits apply to other members of staff.
Nurses who have experience with ergonomic flooring report improved comfort and foot relief and also often mention the noise reduction and acoustic properties of the product. Nurses even told us that they asked to be reassigned to other departments because of the better flooring. These examples reveal how ergonomics plays a much bigger role in product specification.
Additionally, flooring products that reduce noise and provide superior acoustic properties also lead to better resident satisfaction. Noise is a major problem in senior residences and care communities. Caregivers roll mobile medical carts, laundry carts, food carts and waste barrels down hallways continuously throughout the day, which can create a lot of noise. Adding sound-absorbing materials can greatly improve the environment for a peaceful, more homelike setting for residents and a quieter care environment for staff members.
Residents and caregivers also want to feel at home in a seniors’ residence. Drawing on lessons learned from evidence-based design research, the leadership of today’s designers and architects is moving away from the sterile, institutional environment to flooring designs that are more natural, more warm and homeopathic. This influence comes from the hospitality industry with its emphasis on providing a calming and pleasant environment for residents, visitors and staff members.
Optimal flooring technology
Force reduction and energy release, or energy storage and return, must be considered to understand the science behind truly ergonomic flooring. Force Reduction measures the amount of energy the floor absorbs when walked on. Energy return measures the amount of energy that is returned from the ground to the body during a step. These are the key things to consider when selecting the right flooring for a healthcare facility.
With a softer ground, more energy will be absorbed by the ground and less energy will return to the foot. The result is that more strength will be needed to take each step. Alternatively, the harder the ground, the greater the return of energy to the foot, leading to more discomfort for the body. It is essential to find the optimal balance between the energy that the soil must absorb and the amount that must be comfortably returned to the body.
There are also slips and falls, which can have life-threatening consequences for the elderly. Installing a thicker surface—especially an engineered surface featuring a heterogeneous vinyl sheet or homogeneous sheet rubber fusion bonded to a vulcanized composition rubber backing—can reduce the force impact by up to 35.5% compared to thinner surfaces.
Ecore’s senior citizen flooring products, for example, use a patented and tested technology called itsTRU to fuse a performance wear layer to a 5mm Ecore recycled rubber backing. It is designed to significantly reduce the impact of falls as well as provide better step fall reduction and energy return compared to other traditional resilient flooring, to make life more comfortable for residents and Staff. Additionally, Ecore’s itsTRU product line is also capable of reducing structure-borne noise, providing a quieter space.
Ergonomic materials in healthcare, including how a floor – the foundation of healthcare environment design – can help nurses feel comfortable, and healthcare is officially getting the attention it deserves from from designers, architects and specifiers. When long-term care carers and other staff have a better quality of life, it affects the quality of care and services they provide, which in turn can contribute to significant improvements for older people. they care for, and overall satisfaction ratings.
Specifying a more comfortable and ergonomic flooring material can help reduce chronic pain to improve productivity and quality of resident care, reduce staff absenteeism and workers’ compensation claims, and lead to an overall improvement in the quality of life for dedicated care and aged care providers.
Mark Huxta is Health Sales Manager at Ecore, a company that turns reclaimed waste into performance flooring, aligning a substantial reduction in force with a balanced amount of energy return. More information is available at http://www.ecorecommercialflooring.com/.
The opinions expressed in each McKnight Senior Residence marketplace column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight Senior Residence.
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