Perkins Eastman recently released a survey on senior living titled “An Industry Poised for Change,” including responses from around 200 not-for-profit senior living providers and industry consultants in the U.S. And what it says about the line between the healthcare sector and the senior living sector is pretty interesting.

Almost 80 percent of respondents believe that healthcare reform is driving convergence of the sectors, and the large majority of respondents connect that convergence with an increased demand for short-term stays (85 percent) and a decreasing number of long-term care providers (73 percent).

And yet, as of now, fewer than three-quarters of the respondents have any significant relationship with a healthcare system. Only 10 percent qualify that relationship as a “partnership”—despite the fact that 50 percent feel a partnership will be important for their organizations in the future.

Daniel Cinelli, principal and executive director with Perkins Eastman (Washington, D.C.), says he spends half his time working with not-for-profit senior living clients on strategic planning. Of the top 10 things these clients want to accomplish, he explains, establishing healthcare provider partnerships ranks at number 2 or 3. But then he talks to his colleagues who specialize in healthcare design—and they say that on their clients’ top 10 list, senior living partnerships land at 8 or 9.

“Healthcare is so driven by other factors right now, that senior living never comes to fruition,” he says. “But we are seeing little spots of it.” For example, a hospital in Boulder, Colo., has hired a senior living provider to manage its short-term rehab department inside the hospital; elsewhere, some continuing care retirement communities are bringing in urgent care centers, which are run by the local healthcare system.

The healthcare sector has just as much to gain from these relationships, if not more. As another recent report explains, and as Healthcare Design and Environments for Aging Executive Editor Jennifer Silvis wrote in January, it’s in healthcare providers’ best interest to get more involved in senior patients’ care after they’ve been discharged from a hospital. That could potentially reduce readmission rates, which has a direct effect on hospitals’ Medicare reimbursements under reform.

So both sectors, Cinelli says, are looking for deeper affinity. And when it does happen, someone needs to take ownership over what those services look and feel like. “No one is coordinating this new space between healthcare and senior living,” Cinelli says. “If an urgent care clinic goes into senior living, it still needs to look like a clinic. But you have to tune it up for the older customer.” That includes wayfinding, lighting, and layout considerations. (See “Designing for the Generational Shift” for more on adapting acute care environments for older patients.)

While the pursuit of senior living partnerships may not be in the top half of the priority list for healthcare providers, the rapidly aging population will be nudging it higher before too long. Urgent care clinics are a natural first step—and if healthcare systems don’t jump on those opportunities, Cinelli says, “Walgreens or CVS will.”