President's Blog

Mitchell S. Elliott, AIA  SAGE President

Senior Partner

RDG Planning & Design

Mitch has been involved in SAGE for over ten years, as an advisory group member,  Vice President and currently President of the organization.  His depth of understanding in senior living design and resident-centered strategies has expanded substantially through the relational connections he has cultivated through SAGE.  He also serves as 2nd Vice Chair for the Health Care Section Board of NFPA.  Mitch is a member of the AHCA Life Safety Committee.  

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  • Wednesday, February 28, 2018 6:48 PM | Lori Bridgeman (Administrator)

    Guest Blogger: Keith Gray, Director of Applied Research, J+J Flooring Group

    My career in research spans several decades, across many scientific fields, but I find that elevating the senior lifestyle experience is the most satisfying of all.  So, it should come as no surprise how delighted I was to join a SAGE research team, tasked with developing a Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE) study for a senior community called Cypress Cove--specifically their four household-style memory care areas.

    As with most POEs, we were out to determine how effectively the original design met the actual desired outcomes, especially from the perspectives of residents, their families, and staff. However, there is much that makes this POE project exceptional in terms of approach.  Previous POEs were typically generated within a few days before a major conference, and at a nearby community, which limits the options for communities to study, and leaves only a few days to sort, classify and analyze data and develop the POE report and presentation.  

    Some special funding made it possible to do things differently this year.  I am pleased that my company, J+J Flooring Group, collaborated with SAGE on both financial and manpower support--based on our company’s commitment to being more than just flooring providers to senior communities.

    With no geographical constraints to deal with, SAGE secured participation by an award-winning community in Florida, hundreds of miles from, and three months in advance of, the EFA conference in Savannah.  As a result, rather than having a few days to write the report, the SAGE team has almost three months to study the data, write the white paper and develop the presentation for SAGE to present at EFA.  That alone promises to yield an excellent report in every way.

    But it gets even better. SAGE stepped up with a strong six-member team, including: Amy Carpenter, an architect who specializes in senior living; Migette Kaup, a designer from academia who is also a senior living specialist; Fred Worley, an expert on regulatory affairs; Teresa Whittington, a nurse who oversees the clinical and business operations of the healthcare services areas of a senior-living community; Robert Soler, an expert on circadian lighting; and—yours truly--a materials scientist that has studied the intersection of flooring and human performance for 31 years. This diverse set of specialists brings perhaps an unprecedented range of perspectives for a SAGE POE. On the community side, we were given the full and complete cooperation of administration and staff.  We had access to staff, residents and their families, and the entire community.

    Another extraordinary advantage we enjoyed was that the lead architect for the original project was able to join us and gave us a thorough briefing on the original design goals for the community. Accordingly, we could structure the POE to focus on those desired outcomes—and learn from the residents and staff if those design goals produced the desired results, which opens the door to forward thinking about an even better design.

    The researcher in me couldn’t be more excited. Working together as companies and professionals, the SAGE POE project promises to yield powerful insights for the future. My colleagues and I will be able to study every angle, point and nuance of an environment that was already world-class.  This project is living proof how industry collaboration can take the industry farther and faster than any organization can working alone.  Make it a point to visit the SAGE exhibit at EFA this April and join us at the presentation to learn the POE results—and get your copy of the SAGE POE whitepaper for a permanent reference resource.

    Keith Gray, Director of Applied Research, J+J Flooring

    Keith Gray is known for pioneering the launch of evidence-based design research for the flooring industry. With his unique approach to studying the comprehensive effects of flooring on humans, human performance and institutional facility outcomes. Gray leads J+J’s human-centered research initiatives with his keen sense and ability to mine for narrative findings. A scientist and engineer by training, Gray holds more than 50 U.S. and foreign patents. He has been invited to present his findings with global architecture and design firms. Gray holds an advanced degree in polymer science.

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  • Monday, February 05, 2018 2:02 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    This month marks the one-year anniversary of my return to private practice in architecture. After twenty-four years of being a client, my one year of transition back to a consulting role is complete. The reality is, this is a journey and not a destination. 

    I have learned a lot about the world of senior living from the consulting perspective and more importantly, I’ve learned a lot about myself. Here are my take aways from this transition year. 

    I have much less influence on project schedules. As a client, I had the opportunity, and responsibility, to set the pace of our projects.  This pace was driven by our operation team’s ability to execute the changes we were developing. I also had the luxury of answering to a private owner, rather than a board. This reality impacted the decision-making process. As a consultant, many factors influence the rhythm of a project and most of them are out of my control. The pressure of “speed to market” is much more prevalent, especially in the rental world of senior living. This pace is exciting and challenging...all at the same time. 

    As a client in a provider organization, I had experts in finance, operations, clinical services, dietary and marketing at my finger tips...all under one roof. Immediate feedback was available with a similar mindset. In the consulting world, I have had the opportunity to work side by side with some of the best experts in our senior living field. This collaboration looks much different from my client days and I have found these interactions to be thought-provoking and inspirational. 

    As a client, I was one of the decision-makers, along with other subject matter experts in our organization. I worked for an owner who had the attitude, “if it ain’t broke, then let’s break it”.  In reality, I probably “stirred the pot” in keeping that approach alive and well. As a consultant, I have the opportunity to work with the decision-makers. I have been exposed to many different processes with unique organizations, especially in the non-profit world. Fortunately, many of these organizations have a similar passion for quality of that from which I came. At the end of the day, my role as a consultant is to guide and recommend...not to decide for anyone. This has required some adjustment on my part. 

    My hope is that my twenty-four years of sitting on the client side of the table will give me a greater depth of empathetic listening and a unique understanding of our client needs. I know that as design consultants we can disrupt conventional thinking and ageism as we work with owners who have a passion for making a difference in the lives of older adults. No matter which side of the table we sit, I trust that empathy and understanding will prevail. 

  • Sunday, January 14, 2018 6:06 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    This year has begun with a jolt for me. In its first week, I lost two close friends to cancer. Their celebrations of life were six days apart. These type of losses and events cause one to think about relationships. They drive us to evaluate and consider the legacy that each one of us is leaving to our friends, families co-workers and clients. To borrow Henry Cloud’s boat analogy, what type of wake are we leaving as we sail through this life?

    The reality is that what we do in senior living isn’t about us as designers, architects, providers and researchers, it’s about making a difference in the lives of people. The experiences that we create in the process and the end products are what matters. The relationships that we impact along the way make all of our efforts worth the necessary sacrifices. The design awards and the recognition we receive should be based on the difference we are making.

    As we launch 2018, I am committed more than ever to influencing our profession and the SAGE organization into becoming greater difference-makers. It would also be very rewarding to see the results of our legacy...the relational wake we leave behind...before we are gone.

  • Tuesday, December 12, 2017 11:09 AM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    At a recent presentation I was making to a university board, I was asked to describe the changes I had seen over my 30 years of experience in senior living.  This topic was not a part of the PowerPoint I was presenting, but I quickly adapted.  My initial response was to set the context of 30 years.  When I began my senior living journey, only the owner of our company had a cellular phone…and it was the size of a brick.  Very few of our clients had a facsimile machine.  One of the younger board members actually looked at me in confusion until I explained that fax was the shorter version.  By this point in my response, I was beginning to feel my age.

    It donned on me that 30 years ago this year, OBRA 87 came into existence.  If you read the history of SAGE, that was milestone legislation that had a significant impact on a more humane approach to long term care and senior living as a whole.  OBRA 87 had tremendous influence on how we thought about the environment for seniors.  This was about the time that Dr. Bill Thomas had the gall to invite pets into the care environments.  He, among others, began talking about scale…not in terms of weight, but in terms of size.  We began bringing food to the people rather than herding people to the food.  The concept of dining with 10-12 of one’s closest friends, rather than being fed in a cafeteria of 120 became so appealing! Maggie Calkins (founding SAGE Member) encouraged us to stop hiding the toilets! Lori Hiatt challenged the concept of the nursing bunker.  David Green (founding SAGE member) gave residents a voice.  Betsy Brawley (former SAGE board member) shed light on the visual experience in senior living…pun intended.  Rob Mayer gave the regulations an overhaul. 

    In this name dropping/acknowledging exercise, I have probably missed a number of pioneers in our world.  One of the hallmarks of the past thirty years involves the progression from the medical model to the social model to what I would call the experiential model.  Actually, I credit Apple for raising our level of awareness when it comes to user experience and quality, which has transcended into so many markets today. Today, we talk about the bathing experience, the admissions experience, the discharge experience, the dining experience, the wellness experience and even the outdoor experience. This all relates to culture. Our built environments can’t create culture, but they can surely enhance the experience.

    I am excited to see what the next 30 years will bring in terms of change for the senior living space.  At the rate we are progressing, I believe even the next five years will provide for some amazing breakthroughs.   

  • Tuesday, November 14, 2017 9:31 AM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    In late October, we wrapped up LeadingAge along with our 2017 Annual Meeting for SAGE. First of all, I would like to congratulate our newly elected board members, Christine SomaTeresa Whittington and Lori Reynolds. For more information on their backgrounds and expertise, please read their bios which were a part of the election process. Christine and Teresa were incumbents and Lori will be joining the board for the first time. I want to welcome all three to SAGE leadership as we set the course for the future. 

    As we welcome new board members, I would like to extend a heart-felt thank you to our departing members. Jonathan Blackwood of studioSIX5 and Charlie Jennings of Harbor Retirement Associates will be stepping off the board at the end of 2017. They have both brought meaningful insights to our strategic planning process as we build on the past and dream into the future. Please thank them for serving our senior living market in this influential way. 

    We are growing!  At this time last year, we had 170 members on the active/pending renewal status.  Today, we have 256 members on the active/pending renewal status.  That represents a 50% growth in the past year.  I think the success of the SAGE Webinar series has contributed significantly to the growth of the organization.  I also believe that our members are sharing their passion for the market space in a more intentional way.  Keep up the great work as we grow our membership, and more importantly, our member value. 

    Our collaboration with J+J Flooring Group on a couple of initiatives is also very fulfilling and inspiring.  We will be issuing a press release very soon that lays out more details pertaining to the upcoming POE.  One thing I can share is that the POE presentation has been slated for a deep dive session of two hours at the beginning of next spring’s Environments for Aging conference.  I would like to thank Emerald Expositions for recognizing the significant value that this POE will bring to our profession and market space. 

    SAGE has also been collaborating on the “Dialogues” Event that is sponsored by J+J Flooring Group.  I had the privilege and opportunity to speak at their first event in Dallas last week.  All of the speakers were SAGE members and many in the audience were exposed to SAGE for the very first time.  I want to thank J+J for inviting SAGE to accompany them on this journey of inspiring education. Learn more about "Dialogues" HERE. 

    This blog is more about updating and less about an opinion…and maybe that is refreshing for some.  Never fear, the opining will return next month!  I trust that you will all have a meaningful Thanksgiving holiday.  Make sure and count your blessings and live a life of gratitude. 

  • Monday, September 11, 2017 1:48 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    As the recovery is underway from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, our compatriots in Florida are just starting to take a glimpse outside to survey the damage from Hurricane Irma.  There wasn’t even a letter in between the naming of these two devastating storms!

    We have a number of SAGE members in Florida and in southeastern Texas.  We have attempted to follow up with many of them to check in.  I am encouraged by the human spirit as we hear stories of heroism, self-sacrifice and perseverance in the recovery efforts.  Lori Alford of Avanti Senior Living shared of the unselfish efforts that their caregiving team put forth in protecting their residents, knowing that their own personal homes were at risk.  Charlie Wilson at Buckner in Dallas has rolled up his sleeves in supporting their care communities in Houston and Beaumont.  In these challenging times, titles get thrown out the window…and for good reason.  In addition to the selfless acts of support, the collaboration between care communities has been inspiring. 

    The minimal loss of life through both of these significant storm events is a testament to the emergency preparedness that our senior-living world embraces.  I know from my “provider” days that all the fire drills, the emergency planning and the deficiencies that seem to result from not documenting these preparatory activities can be frustrating.  If our team members aren’t careful, we can all go through the motions in preparing for emergencies.  For those who have endured Harvey and Irma, that preparation has paid off.  Kudos to all those who have protected our elders who rely on all of us for safety and security. 

    As many of us in the design profession assist our clients with damage assessments, let’s make sure and thank those who “took the direct hit” from the storms.  Their unselfish efforts to protect our elders should be celebrated as an inspiration to all of us! 

  • Tuesday, August 08, 2017 12:13 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    In July, I had the wonderful opportunity to serve on the presentation selection team for the 2018 Environments for Aging Conference.  I was joined by Maria Lopez and Ric D'Amico in representing SAGE in this process.  In total, we had ten industry professionals working alongside representatives from The Center for Health Design, Emerald Expositions and EFA Magazine.  This selection process involved a rousing day of discussion, debate, disagreement and passionate determination as this team built the content for EFA18.  

    The review team went through every presentation proposal and narrowed it down to fill the 45 slots in the program.  The diversity in topics and approaches in this year's collection of presentations was interesting.  The standout presentation proposals, in my opinion, involved a multi-disciplinary approach.  There is a certain depth of experience when one brings together a designer, a clinician, an operator/provider and even a direct care-giver in a presentation.  This approach reinforces the collaborative nature of the planning, design and implementation process.  When one adds a case study component to this collaborative approach, the resulting "lessons learned" content becomes icing on the cake in terms of take home value.  This multi-perspective approach also reflects the collaborative values of SAGE as we reinforce our role as The Network for senior living environments. 

    I found it interesting and a bit concerning that during our discussions, one of the reviewers asked why designers and architects would attend this type of conference.  The sense was that we should already know this stuff!  I was taken back by that thought. Even though many of us have been involved in senior living for more that a quarter century, we must stay in a continuous learning mindset.  Our world is changing so quickly that yesterday's innovative solutions are today's baseline expectations.  

    EFA is definitely a place for designers, architects, senior living providers, regulators, researchers and solution providers to come together to learn from each other.  We must continue to learn and innovate on behalf of our clients and more importantly, for the older adults we serve.  

    It is a dangerous place to think we have things figured out...that there is nothing more to learn.  Keep asking questions.  Keep seeking to understand and keep learning how we can improve the lives of older adults through the built environment.  That's who we are.  That's what we do!

  • Saturday, July 15, 2017 6:18 AM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    At RDG Planning & Design, we recently celebrated the grand opening of a new office in St. Louis. This office has a concentration in senior-living interiors.  Our key partners in this new office. Kelley Hoffman and Catrina Cook, are building a fabulous team of passionate designers who are committed to quality environments for seniors. 

    This is starting to sound like an infomercial and that is not my intent. I do, however, want to amplify the value of interior design in senior living. It is amazing that many interior designers feel that senior living does not offer enough fulfilling, design opportunities. Really?  From benching office layouts to bistros to theaters to amazing worship spaces, senior living is a microcosm of almost every type of interior space available.

    The reality is, as resident-focused as we want to be, the marketing efforts in senior living are targeting the 50-something adult daughters. These adult children are influenced by HGTV, Pinterest and good design--in positive and negative ways. This interior influence is especially true when it comes to the first and lasting impressions that interior design can foster.  What aspiring interior designer wouldn't want to engage in this wonderful world of senior living?  There are opportunities galore!  

    As an architect, I understand that an interior designer can have as much, if not more, impact on the quality of life for our seniors. They truly make a house a home through their design eyes and attention to detail. We need great interior design to complement and enhance the architectural environments we are creating! 

    Personally, I think we need more young interior designers AND architects engaged in senior living. This involves those of us with more highway behind us than in front of us to invite others to join us on this journey. Then we must mentor them through the journey. I call this inviting and investing for our future. More to come on this topic. 

    SAGE is well positioned to be a key player in this inviting and investing strategy. Through education and networking, we can create a sustainable design community that is passionate about environments for older adults. We have a strong community of interior designers as stakeholders in SAGE, but there is always room for more. 

    Let's keep our eyes open for those talented people who can be difference-makers in senior living. Our elders are counting on us!

    PHOTOS: The Ridge Senior Living, Salt Lake City, Utah/Alan Blakely Photography/studioSIX5

  • Wednesday, June 14, 2017 4:05 PM | Lori Bridgeman (Administrator)

    By Bill Pemberton

    This month, for my “president’s blog”, I thought I would give you all a break from my ranting.  I have invited a guest blogger, Bill Pemberton, to share his passion in my place.  Bill Pemberton is senior vice president of the senior lifestyle division of The Point Group, a senior-focused marketing firm based in Dallas, Texas.  Bill is also a member of the SAGE Board of Directors.  Bill believes strongly in the value of design as an integral part of the overall customer brand experience.  Let’s hear what’s on Bill’s heart.  --Mitch


    As senior living communities continue to proliferate across the country, the level of competition is getting increasingly tough in markets, small and large.  This market saturation offers a baffling array of look-alike choices to consumers, and makes the first challenge to building occupancy simply finding a way to stand out from the pack.  While the temptation is to high pressure the sales team to close more deals and focus on occupancy, the real answer is probably focusing on a more effective brand strategy.

    Your brand wins for you when it connects well and quickly enough with prospects for your community that you make the shortlist on your prospect’s list of providers they want to tour.  Then, and only then, is it up to sales to uphold the brand promise.  Occupancy is an outcome of qualified leads, well managed.

    While brand is often seen as a mysterious and complex piece of marketing magic, it’s really a straightforward but strategic approach to a series of customer touchpoints that guide consumers on a journey from being prospects to customers, and then to brand advocates. That journey begins with your communications to the market, via media channels such as PR, advertising, direct mail, your website and more.  Your sales staff must continue that brand promise on the physical visit, or you risk an abrupt brand disconnect as in, “Honey, this isn’t at all what I was expecting.” That wastes everyone’s time.

    Brand formulation begins with defining what makes up your unique value as a company or community. That value consists of whatever benefits your community is intrinsically able to deliver on a consistent basis—especially in contrast to the competition who can’t deliver exactly those benefits, or as well. No senior community can be all things to all prospects.  Your goal then should be to capture those prospects who generally belong at your community based on your special ability to meet their key “care abouts”—whether real life needs or just strong preferences.

    Maybe you’re the only non-profit in a town full of for-profit providers—stress the benefits of that model.  Perhaps your building is older and unattractive, but your clinical staff are second to none, or you have a culture of caring that trumps a flashy building with a cold staff.  Maybe you’re more affordable than other communities, or conversely, you offer an extraordinary experience at unashamedly high prices. Maybe you’re located among walkable local attractions—or you offer quaint country ambiance. Ideally i’s a combination of several key factors—but find your “hook” points and keep it short. 

    Brand ID elements such as name, logo, slogans and website homepage copy are what most folks believe brand is about. But those are just the compact containers you use to provide a condensed, concise—and hopefully compelling—taste of what your full value proposition entails. It’s more overture than opera. You’ll need a brochure to tell all about dozens of your amenities but your brand promise may only trumpet “a signature lifestyle experience” and the like. The best branding is specific and memorable.

    Another key point: your brand isn’t a once and forever formulation but may require a “brand update” to reflect new expansions, renovations and other repositioning activities you do to counter new or improved competition. Finally, don’t hesitate to pull in a professional marketing agency—preferably one with strong senior marketing savvy—to guide you through the process of brand formulation and brand ID development. Brand is far too important to miss the mark and agencies spend their days in brand development processes. An agency can also ensure that your brand is communicated consistently across all channels.  In any case, start today making sure you’re leveraging your brand assets to the fullest. You may find that much of the occupancy growth—of the kind you need—takes care of itself.

    Bill Pemberton develops marketing solutions for senior living and care communities of all types and sizes across the nation—as well as companies who market to the senior living industry.  He welcomes dialogue at

  • Tuesday, May 09, 2017 4:54 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    Since moving back into the architectural consulting world, my first two months have been full of video conferences.  The technology that is available today to connect with people all around the country, as well as globally, is amazing.  The collaborative opportunity for design charrettes through shared desktops is mind-blowing.  This technology is reducing travel costs and helping designers and consultants control time and expenses. 

    With all this high-tech connectivity, are we still truly connecting with people?  Are we building relationships?  Are we missing something in our human interactions?  Call me old school.  Call me old fashioned.  Call me a skeptic.  There is something meaningful in a handshake.  There is something about eye contact that builds trust.  Face to face interaction allows for transparency.  It contributes to real relationships that matter.

    Speaking of face to face opportunities, I am anticipating a fantastic strategic planning retreat for the SAGE board, where we will be in the same room for two days.  The board normally meets electronically once a quarter, while the officers participate in monthly conference calls.  This in-person opportunity will contribute significantly to relationship and trust building.  The face-to-face collaboration will provide the board with ample time to get to know each other in deeper, more meaningful ways.  I am confident the SAGE organization will benefit now and in the future because of this investment in time and energy. 

    How many of our client relationships could benefit from a renewed face-to-face encounter?  How many of our employees would feel valued by sitting across the table over lunch, rather than receive a text or email?  Do you remember those handwritten notes? 

    The next time you get ready to launch an email or hammer out a text, think about the benefits of a phone call or an appointment starting with a handshake.  Your choice may just contribute to a deep, meaningful relationship for years to come. 

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