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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  • Sunday, October 02, 2016 2:12 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    In October, we at SAGE prepare for transition.  We strategically stagger the terms of our board members which allows us to blend experience with fresh perspectives.  During the month of October, we will be voting to replace two “Sages of SAGE” whose tenure has come to a close. 

    For the past six years, Betsy Brawley has served on the SAGE board, representing an important interior design perspective.  She has been a passionate pioneer in designing environments with a focus in Alzheimer’s Disease.  As a recognized author and design consultant, Betsy has been a sought after speaker at conferences for many years.  Recently, she has elevated the importance of artificial and natural lighting within environments for seniors.  SAGE has benefited from her passion, her experience and her willingness to share her design knowledge. 

    Skip Gregory is the other sage who will be stepping off the board at the end of this year.  Skip has served on the board for six years since 2009.  He was one of the first “regulators” to serve on the board and he always brought a reality-based view to our discussions.  He was one of the early adopters of person-centered care from a code or regulatory perspective.  His passion and influence carried well beyond the state of Florida and included national involvement in NFPA, FGI and ICC.  Skip said it was time for the next generation to take up the mantle of “people-focused” regulations. 

    In the next few weeks, SAGE members will be given the opportunity to elect that next generation of “influencers” in our profession.  I am encouraged by the quality of the candidates we have for this coming election.  Please be sure to participate in the election process, even if you can’t make the annual meeting in November.  Lori Bridgeman, our administrative assistant for SAGE, is diligently putting together the electronic voting process. 

    We can learn so much from those who have more highway behind them than in front of them.  I would encourage all of us to seek out the sages of our profession.  Listen to them.  Learn from them.  Value them.  

    Thank you, to Betsy and Skip, for your passion, your service and your commitment to the SAGE design principles.  We are indebted to you for what you have done, but more importantly, for who you are!

  • Thursday, September 01, 2016 2:49 PM | Lori Bridgeman (Administrator)

    Guest Blogger

    Jonathan Blackwood

    Communications Director


    SAGE Board Member

    With the Labor Day weekend coming up, I thought back on how I had spent my summer. Living in Austin, this usually revolves around trying to keep cool; there was some of that, but this year, it was more about keeping dry. Coming off a six-year drought, I can’t complain.

    One of the highlights for me, though, was spending Bastille Day in Arlington, Virginia with some of my fellow SAGE members (Russell McLaughlin, Maria Lopez, Lori Hiatt and CC Andrews) as a reviewer for the 2017 Environments for Aging Conference. We spent the day sifting through almost 90 proposals for the 40-odd speaking slots at the conference to be held in Las Vegas, February 26 – March 1, 2017. Actually, we had received the proposals in advance; without prescreening, we would never have gotten through the process in one day.

    The thing I love about getting together with fellow SAGE members is that we each bring with us a love of seniors and the desire to improve their lives by improving their environments. But in that group of the five of us was Russ, an architect; Maria, an interior designer; Lori, a gerontologist; CC Andrews, a branding/positioning expert for healthcare; and me, communications director for an interior design firm. (Mitch Elliott, our SAGE President, previewed the proposals and provided his input, but was unable to attend the meeting.)

    Together with representatives from the AIA, ASID, IIDA, The Center, and others, we perused the proposals that were offered for topics ranging from food service to memory care, lighting to finishes, products to post-occupancy evaluation, and even designing for Inuit elders. We began the meeting reviewing the results of participant feedback from the 2016 EFA Conference in Austin. Armed with this knowledge, I believe we were able to recognize the topics our attendees would be most interested in, as well as speakers who consistently engage their participants and provide useful information. We also selected a number of speakers with excellent credentials who would be presenting at EFA for the first time, on engaging topics of interest. Getting passionate people together from all these different points of view made for an engaging and productive day.

    Jen Wilcox of the Center for Health Design ran the meeting and kept us focused and on schedule, and Kristin Zeit, Editor-in-Chief of Environments for Aging Magazine, provided valuable insight as someone with her hand on topics that are timely and of interest to the EFA Conference attendees. All-in-all, it was a productive, enlightening and fun day. I enjoyed meeting all the participants.

    Before the next EFA conference, of course, will be the LeadingAge Conference in Indianapolis, October 30 through November 2. SAGE will play a major role in this conference, as well, holding our annual meeting on November 1 followed up by a reception at Claddagh Irish Pub. You’ll want to be sure and join us for the festivities. At a gathering of SAGE members from different disciplines and different regions, you’re bound to find people you’ll want to meet and share ideas with.

    A note from Mitch Elliott, SAGE President: As I prepared for my eighth installation of this presidential blog, I thought you needed a break from my perspective.  It has been a long summer and you need some variety.  You need to hear from others who are just as passionate and more articulate in driving our mission forward.  I'm sure you enjoyed hearing from one of our board members, Jonathan Blackwood, as he shared insights from a recent SAGE experience.  Thank you, Jonathan, for joining me in being one of many passionate and articulate voices for SAGE!

  • Sunday, July 31, 2016 8:42 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    The SAGE Education Committee--or SAGEducation, as I like to call this innovative team--has been working to develop content for upcoming webinars and programs.  Christine Soma leads this passionate group as they focus on adding member value to SAGE. 

    I am excited to announce that through the efforts of Christine, the SAGEducation Team, and Lori Bridgeman, SAGE has become an Approved Provider for the AIA CES (American Institute of Architects Continuing Education System).  According to the SAGE By-laws, education is one of the primary purposes of the organization.  This “accreditation” will be a significant step in raising member value in SAGE.  This renewed education initiative will also help us promote the SAGE Philosophy and Design Principles in some tangible ways. 

    How will this work?  The SAGEducation Team, along with the board, is finalizing the details.  Conceptually, I can share that all educational programs that will be eligible for AIA/CES credits will be free to SAGE members.  We will make the educational programs available to non-members for a fee.  We believe this could be a great recruiting tool as well as a way to raise some “non-dues” revenue for the organization.   The SAGEducation Team will be building a webinar archive on the “members-only” section of the website to serve as an educational reference for our members.  The details on AIA credits for archived webinars have not been worked out at this point. 

    Now…I am reading your thought bubble.  “This is more of an announcement and not an opinionated blog.”  Well, you spoke too soon.  I always have an opinion.  The SAGEducation Initiative will be reliant on the development of quality content.  Initially, the team is capitalizing on webinars built from previous EFA conference presentations.  I know that we have many members who have developed, or are developing, educational materials for their own clients and purposes.  One of the major benefits of SAGE is the sharing of knowledge, experience and information among its members.  The more that we can escape our “proprietary tendencies” and share what we know, the more improvements we will experience in the design of senior environments.  Collectively, we can raise the water mark of quality in what we do and how we do it. 

    SAGEducation is for real.  I am excited to see where this initiative can go as we collaborate toward quality!

  • Tuesday, July 05, 2016 3:00 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    I have the opportunity and responsibility of leading a 13-member team within the Vetter organization.  I am blessed to be surrounded by rock stars in their areas of expertise including architecture, interior design, project management, construction management, maintenance support and purchasing.  My management strategy--get out of their way and let them do their thing--is to a point.  Investing in who they are is extremely important to the success of our team.

    Part of that investment has involved the embracing of a monthly book club.  We are in our second year of this adventure.  This year, we are going old school--Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  We are finding these timeless truths very enriching and thought-provoking to say the least.  This past month, we dove into Habit 3, First Things First.  In essence, this habit involves “self-management”.  As a recovering procrastinator--and in the architectural world, I know I am not alone--this habit really hits home.  How many of us in the design-consulting world allow our priorities to be dictated by clients, managing partners, the expectations of others or even the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves?  It is a challenge to manage what we don’t control! 

    I love the priority matrix that Covey introduces in his book.  This matrix relates to two areas that impact the prioritizing of our time--urgency and importance.  At a 30,000-foot level, we are to be proactive about the important things, rather than reactive to unimportant things.  WOW…is this easy to say and difficult to implement! 

    Why do I bring this up in my monthly blog?  I see our involvement in SAGE as a Quandrant II activity--Important, but not Urgent.  In reality, SAGE is not much different from other volunteer organizations including faith-based organizations, professional associations, causes involving health concerns, and even our families.  Those groups tend to receive our “left over” time, if we have any at all.  Many of us are passionate about creating and celebrating environments for seniors that have a positive impact on the quality of their lives.  How do we carve out the quality and quantity time necessary to make a difference?  Covey would say to delegate or even drop the unimportant, proactively take care of the urgently important, and spend a majority of our time on the important, but not urgent. 

    I would encourage each of you to grab a cup of coffee, a glass of water, or an adult beverage, and spend some time thinking.  Shut out the noise of the world and really think about your roles in life. Ask this deep question: "What are the three to five main purposes in my life?”  Then look at your calendar and your checkbook (or online account) to see if they reflect those purposes.  Unfortunately, mine didn’t.  The next step involves the intentional scheduling of those priorities and purposes, with a major focus of time on the important, but not urgent.  It is a journey and I will be the first to tell you that I have not arrived--and probably never will. 

    My hope is that once you have walked through a bit of this process, you will be able to carve out some time for an incredibly important role or purpose--being a difference maker in the lives of seniors.  We have SAGE committees who need your insight and passion.  The rock stars who implement these visions are begging for us to prioritize with purpose.

  • Wednesday, June 01, 2016 3:54 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    June is National Safety Month.  Safety is the driving force behind all of our codes, regulations and standards that we so dearly love.  Don’t worry…this isn’t another blog on regulations! 

    A few years ago, I sat in on a Bill Thomas presentation.  In typical “Bill fashion”, he asked a probing question.  How safe is too safe?  Can we be too safe at the expense of life-enriching resident experiences?  We as designers work very hard at eliminating trip hazards, glare and other environmental press that have such a negative impact on seniors.  At another conference workshop, we were discussing noise within a nursing home.  We discussed the noise generated by sit-stand alarms…you know, those devices that alert the care-giving team member when a resident, who is not supposed to get up, tries to get up.  Why do we as providers use those alarms?  To keep the resident safe?  Maybe.  I actually use the “baking cookies” analogy.  Why does one set a timer while baking cookies?  So you can forget about the cookies and do something else until the cookies need your attention.  I think you can see where this is going. 

    Many families move their loved ones into our senior living communities for safety reasons...falls, burns and outdoor exposure, just to name a few.  Families are entrusting us to keep their wife, husband, mother or father safe, but are we doing that at the expense of dignity and quality of life?  At the Vetter organization, we are grappling with how “secure” to keep our exterior doors.  We used to focus on not allowing confused residents to “elope”, while making it very user-friendly for our cognitive residents and family members to come and go as they please.  I have been around when one of our residents “left the building” during a cold Nebraska winter and didn’t make it back.  It was a horrible outcome for everyone involved.  Safety is important! 

    In today’s more volatile environment, controlling who comes into our buildings is becoming a great risk management issue.  The challenge with limiting the comings and goings of people in our buildings is we detrimentally impact a resident’s independent access to the outdoors.  Now that is a quality of life issue in my mind.  I am thrilled with the innovative technology that is now available for door access and security, but that does come with a price on so many levels.  All of these card readers, keypads and motion detection systems are not home-like…especially for an 85-year old.  Heck…as a 56-year old, I have struggled with just leaving one of our “secure” buildings. 

    The reality is, the greatest generation that we serve can’t be out-foxed when it comes to safety.  While in one of our memory support households, I was struggling to input the code on the keypad to unlock the secure door.  One of the “confused” residents, a dignified gentleman with a gleam in his eye, said, “when I want to go outside, I just pull that fire alarm.”    

    I would encourage us as SAGE members to find that right balance between safety and resident empowerment.  Maybe our job should be to help residents manage their risk, rather than for us to eliminate risk all together?

  • Monday, May 02, 2016 10:34 AM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    OK…based on a recent code interpretation, I am livid!  Even though I am not a big government regulations guy…and I promise to keep politics out of this discussion, I seem to be fully immersed in them…regulations, that is.  In addition to my responsibilities with SAGE, I serve on the national AHCA Life Safety Committee (American Health Care Association).  During a recent conference call, the AHCA Life Safety Consultant reviewed recent interpretations from the Health Interpretation Task Force (HITF).  A key voting member of this task force is CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid).  Unfortunately, I am not finished with acronyms, so please bear with me! 

    So…back to the interpretation.  Here is the question that was submitted tothe HITF.  “Is non-fixed furniture allowed to be placed in the corridors of skilled nursing homes where the corridors are wider than the required 8 feet, so long as, the non-fixed furniture does not encroach into the required 8 foot corridor width?”  The Pioneer Network, The Rothschild Foundation and SAGE were influential in getting this culture change initiative into the 2012  Life Safety Code, which allows for furniture to be placed in corridors.  The HITF answer:  “No, non-fixed furniture is not allowed.  Provisions of NFPA 18/ do not apply to non-fixed furniture.  This provision is not intended to restrict non-fixed furniture in spaces permitted to be open to the corridor. (18/” 

    This is, in my opinion, ridiculous!  This was never the intent of the culture change team that lobbied for this very resident centered approach.  In simplified terms, the regulations allow for furniture to be placed in an 8-foot wide corridor as long as the furniture is fixed to the floor or wall and it does not reduce the width of the corridor to less than 6 feet.  I get that.  Regardless of the corridor width over 8 feet, any furniture in that corridor has to be fixed to the wall or floor.  I don’t get that! 

    At this point, our only solution as architects, designers and providers is to designate the excess corridor width over 8 feet as a “space open to the corridor”.  That approach seems manipulative, at best, but is supported by the HITF interpretation.  It is my hope that the SAGE Regulatory Impact Committee can have some influence in these type of code interpretations.  For now, I will pursue some personal therapy by visiting one of our amazing care communities, grabbing a cup of coffee and strapping myself into one of our fixed chairs in the hallway!

    Are you pulling your hair out over code interpretations? SAGE's recent "CodeBusters" webinar may help! We chewed on obstacles we face with senior-housing codes and shared insights on turning these obstacles into opportunities. SAGE national code representatives Amy Carpenter and John Shoesmith started the conversation with a re-cap of SAGE code initiatives at a national level.  They will then dove into a conversation with case studies revolving around real code issues SAGE members face in their own communities and projects. SAGE members can access the recording of the webinar via the Members Only page. 

  • Tuesday, April 05, 2016 11:07 AM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    As I reflect on last week's Environments for Aging Conference, I appreciate all the great networking opportunities at the conference. Over the years of my involvement in SAGE, the connections I have made and the relationships that have been nurtured, are by far, the greatest benefit to this organization.  My farmer father-in-law likes to say, “It’s not what you know, but who you know that counts.” 

    The reality is that getting to know people who know more than you do is the ultimate in networking. That concept looks more like mentoring rather than networking.  As the board at SAGE gets together at EFA, we will be tackling a number of strategic initiatives to move the organization forward.  Beyond the organization, we will be looking at moving our profession into a sustainable pattern of growth and innovation.  Mentoring may be a tactical approach to achieving this growth strategy. 

    SAGE, as well as our profession, is dealing with the reality of watching our early pioneers move on.  Over the past couple of years, we have lost both David Green and Rob Mayer…visionaries in their own right.  Both gentlemen personally mentored me, in passive as well as active ways as they shared their passion and insight over a meal or a cup of coffee.  In my mind, that was the ultimate in mentoring.  Who are our next mentors?  Who is willing to be mentored?  What does that process look like? 

    I would encourage our younger architects, designers, providers, researchers and others to become excellent at asking questions….questions of those who have “been there and done that”.  In my twenties, I know I had it all figured out.  In my thirties, I had most things figured out.  By my forties, I hoped to figure some things out.  Now in my fifties, I love figuring things out…and helping others learn along the way.  To illustrate this point, may I suggest you rent the movie, The Intern. This movie speaks volumes in regard to mentoring and learning from those who have a few more miles behind them.  

    Each of us is at a different point in our journey to figure things out.  Let’s use the networking opportunities that arise at EFA to build relationships and to connect with others who realize that they don’t have everything figured out, but are willing to partner with others on the journey. 

    It’s not what you know, but how you grow from those you know that counts!  

  • Tuesday, March 01, 2016 2:58 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    As we step into the month of March, the madness isn’t only associated with college basketball…unless of course, you live in Kansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Virginia.  Then brackets are everything! 

    For those of us in the northern climates, March Madness involves the anticipation of “getting out of the ground” with construction.  If your schedule has worked out perfectly, the drawings were finished around Thanksgiving, the bidding occurred over the winter, shop drawings have taken place over the past month, and you are ready to rock and roll with construction.  Chances are, your schedules haven’t been perfect.  That’s where some additional madness comes into play.

    In the Midwest, our March Madness stems from the question…”where have all the contractors and subcontractors gone?”  We are seeing large swings in bids and overages in costs that are having a significant impact on projects.  It seems that from 2008 until around 2013, only the strong survived, leaving less competition in almost all of the construction trades.  As I manage projects from the provider/owner perspective, it is demotivating to reduce scope after the fact.  As an architect, I completely understand the dilemma of cost estimating in this current environment, so I am not throwing stones at my fellow architects and contractors! 

    I believe one of the key strategies to confronting this March Madness is bracketing…the bracketing of the communication between architect, designer, owner and contractor.  Sorry…I just couldn’t resist a well plantedplay on words.  Our world is changing at a very fast pace and the more we communicate our challenges, our expectations and our solutions, the better.  Collaboration will also enhance our communication.  No one has all the answers…even in this volatile, political environment, it takes a huge effort in working together to survive the madness of this time of year.

    If collaboration and communication don’t relieve some of the madness of March, go ahead and fill out your bracket.  The Kansas Jayhawks have my vote!

  • Monday, February 01, 2016 2:42 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    During the last week in January, I had the opportunity to lead an eight-member team from the Vetter organization on an adventure.  We spent the week building a house for a homeless family in San Luis, Mexico.  A father, a mother, and four children ranging in ages from fifteen to three, were living in an 8x8 garden shed in the backyard of the in-laws…all sharing one bed.  With an average daily income of eight dollars, there was no way this family could get ahead to have their own home.

     We worked with Homes for Hope, based out of Yuma, Arizona, to make this dream a reality for this family.  We battled gusty winds in the Mexican desert, power failures, equipment failures and sand everywhere.  It was only by God’s grace that we were able to complete the 12x30 home in four days.  The Vetter team learned a lot about ourselves and each other.  Very few of the team had significant experience with construction.  Together, a nurse, an administrator, a social worker, an accountant, two receptionists, a CADD specialist, and I relied on each other’s strengths, compensated for our weakness, and rallied together to build this home.


    The mission's coordinator kept reminding us that we were really building relationships with the people of San Luis.  The house was a bonus.  I couldn’t help but apply this to what we do as a part of SAGE.  Yes, we provide and create environments for seniors…but in reality, we are building and nurturing relationships…relationships with our design community, with our clients, with our vendors…even with our regulators.  It’s not always about the house!


    On the last day of our week-long venture, we had a dedication ceremony where we presented the house to Carlos, the patriarch of the family.  He wouldn’t look at me as I handed him with the keys.  Part of his response related to their Mexican culture.  Part of his response came from a bit of humiliation that he wasn’t able to provide for his family…that people from far away came to build the home for his family…a home that he couldn’t provide.  He was grateful for the home and he humbly expressed that to us later. 


    I wonder if many of our residents in our senior living communities quietly respond in a similar way.  Many can no longer provide for, or care for, themselves.  We create wonderful communities with amazing care-giving teams and say, “no worries….we have provided for you”.  As I reflect on our trip, I challenge you, as well as myself.  How can we do what we do, while protecting the dignity and honor of those who live in our communities? 

  • Thursday, January 21, 2016 9:55 AM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    Welcome to the new SAGE website!  We hope that you will find this new and improved site more informative, more functional, and more engaging. 

    This website redesign honors the history and heritage of this twenty-one year old organization.  We are grateful to those pioneering visionaries who saw the need for this passionately collaborative organization.  It is our hope that we can build on the legacy upon which the organization was founded and built.

    While we honor our heritage, we are excited to look into the future.  As we announced earlier this year, SAGE has hired a new administrative assistant, Lori Bridgeman.  Lori brings to the organization, administrative depth and creativity like no other.  She will support the SAGE officers and board of directors in our efforts to build membership, and more importantly, member value. 

    Speaking of member value, please make sure and consider registering for this year’s Environments for Aging Conference (EFA16).  This is an amazing conference that attracts over 700 attendees, including architects, interior designers, senior living providers, regulators, researchers and industry representatives…basically the make-up of our membership!  Emerald Expositions is our new partner in this conference and based on our planning work with their team, this event will be bigger and better than ever.  As a SAGE member, you will receive a 10% discount on the conference registration.  This virtually pays for your membership!  Please go to for more information. 

    Finally, SAGE would like to extend our sincere gratitude to Anjum Alden with Anara Consulting for her amazing work on the website rebuild. It was a huge task to not only create an entirely new look, feel, and website navigation, but also to migrate our membership database over to this new platform. We couldn’t have done it without her, and I do not hesitate to recommend Anara Consulting for any website or blog needs to take your brand to the next level. I also would like to personally thank our former board member and secretary, Rob Pfauth, for the countless hours he dedicated to making this new site a reality. 

    If you have any comments, concerns or questions, please don’t hesitate to contact either Lori Bridgeman ( or me.

    Mitchell S. Elliott, AIA

    SAGE President

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