Focus on Leadership: Jane Rohde is a change-maker for senior living – Oct 2019
Interview by Jessica Chevalier
Jane Rohde, founder and principal of JSR Associates, has dedicated her career to advocating for those without a voice, particularly seniors, and to de-institutionalizing elder care.
Currently, Rohde is establishing a non-profit in support of her Live Together model, which brings elders, families and at-risk youth together in an intergenerational community that emulates a small town. At the center of that town, The Engagement Center functions as a gathering place for members to meet, interact and form bonds. Rohde points out that Live Together isn’t futuristic or conceptual but rather a return to the basics of how communities used to function.
Rohde also recently accepted a position as technical consultant for the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI). In addition, she has devoted a great deal of her time and expertise to the development of residential healthcare and sustainability standards.
In 2015, Rohde received the first Changemaker Award for Environments for Aging from The Center for Health Design. In 2018, she received the ASID Design for Humanity Award and was also recognized as an honorary alumnus of Clemson University’s architecture and health program, for her significant intellectual and material contribution to the graduate program, where she teaches.
Rohde lives and works in Baltimore County, Maryland and served as a volunteer parent for two girls, who are now grown.
Q: We were surprised to hear about your new technical role with the RFCI. How did it come to be, and why were you drawn to the position?
A: I have been working in the sustainability and healthcare fields for many years and, since 1999, have collaborated with the RFCI on various speaking events, consulting projects, product development projects, research-all kinds of things.
Bill Freeman [former RFCI technical consultant] and I have known each other for years and have overlapped in working on the development of ANSI standards and other projects. When he decided to retire, he and Dean Thompson approached me and said, “We’ve been watching what you do on the General Services Administration Green Building committee, and you are committed.”
I interviewed with the board, and they asked, “Why would you want to do this?”
I said, “Have you worked in a design firm? Healthcare and senior living are hard markets…I want to bring the [flooring] industry and design together, and I like that this job allows me to have one foot in sustainability, one in healthcare and one in product development.”
Q: You focused your college thesis on the Fuggerei in Germany. Why did that facility catch your interest?
A: The Fuggerei is one of the oldest social communities in the world. At the time, I was working in community design, and a woman said, “You really like the social side of design. You should check this out.” The Fugger family were German merchants, and they wanted to impose tax. To do that, they had to do something philanthropic. The Fuggerei was built in the Middle Ages for widows as an essentially complete community, with a garden, a café; it used to have healthcare components. The cost of rent was that residents had to pray for the Fugger family three times a day.
Living there was never stigmatizing, unlike what we see with government housing today, but has always been considered an honor. The Fuggerei is still in existence today.
One day, when I was staying at Barnsley Gardens north of Atlanta, I noticed that the buildings are constructed the same way as the Fuggerei, and each house has its own little garden. On my way to the airport, my driver and I started talking, I told him, “Barnsley really speaks to what we are trying to do in senior living with our Green House model for long-term care.”
He said, “Do you know who developed Barnsley Gardens?” It was the Fugger family.
Q: You spent the early part of your design career focused on residential design. How did that transition into the current senior living focus that you are so well known for?
A: I did residential design for a couple of years and was then hired by Erickson Retirement Communities in contract administration to design in-house. It was then that I realized the huge gap between operations and function in senior living-the facilities don’t work at all for the people for which they are developed. No one else seemed to realize the gap. That was really the beginning of JSR.
During my time at Erickson, I got close to the residents. I saw them daily. I was basically living for eight years in a working model. I had a friend named Miriam, a resident, who told me everything that was wrong with the place and everything that was working. I saw that the designs of senior living facilities weren’t for the people inhabiting them. The designers didn’t understand how people ambulate across the spaces. My experience gave me a much different sense of how things should be.
Q: Tell me about one of your more transformative senior living projects.
A: China Senior Care was the first residential-centered nursing home in China. We worked on the project for eight years. It is centered around household design, and we saw the outcomes coming through. But then the U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods were implemented. As a result, the project lost its Chinese investor and we had to close the building. It was devastating. The workers and staff actually lived at the community, and they brought their families with them. The communities really functioned as little villages. In fact, we had three litters of puppies born at China Senior Care.
We would love to do something similar in the U.S., and we have tried to find the right client. We have created prototypes, but no matter how good the strategic planning is, it doesn’t necessarily translate into the client being adventuresome enough to see it to buy in. We actually find that multifamily developers do better at senior living because they aren’t tied to preconceived notions.
We recently started Live Together, an intergenerational living and workforce development program. We’re working on the non-profit part of it now. We will have a teaching nursing home and a mix of community members-seniors, families and at-risk youth.
If you think about life today, we have shifted from normal living to segregated living. We don’t work or shop where we live and a lot of that was legislated into place through zoning laws-it was the unintended consequence.
If you look at the Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) model, it is for older Caucasian women predominantly. If you were to place that in a more urban setting, could it have positive influence there? People don’t realize that elders and troubled kids are pretty much incarcerated and isolated. If they did, they would want to help. In addition, CCRCs are serving 5% of the population, at the high-income level. What about the other 95%?
Q: What is the best way to convert a senior living operation from staff-driven to resident-driven?
A: A change in philosophy starts top and bottom, and it comes through education and training. It’s the operational team that decides we aren’t going to go with the status quo. We want to make sure people have as much freedom as they can. We want to know our residents-not their diagnosis but who are they: their favorite meal, their favorite color, their dining habits and preferences.
There are really good places out there. Garden Spot Village in New Holland, Pennsylvania recently built cooperative housing, where five independent people live together in homes, kind of like roommates, sharing responsibilities. There is a pricing structure in place tailored for the individual.
Q: When it comes to senior living, what flooring products do you prefer to work with?
A: LVT is the best thing that has happened to senior living from a product perspective. With so many aesthetics on the market, such as stone and leather visuals, you can accomplish different looks.
We use carpet, too, for warmth, and we prefer soft surfaces that are vinyl-backed for incontinence. Many facilities have shied away from carpet today but struggle to find balance with acoustics and cost. Thermal comfort, acoustic comfort and lighting-those are the three most important attributes for us in relation to flooring in senior living.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: I have made a little progress in changing the marketplace, particularly with licensing code. In 2014, I wrote a book for the Facility Guidelines Institute called Guidelines for Design and Construction of Residential Health, Care, and Support Facilities, which is a parameter utilized as code for the licensing of long-term care and other related facilities.
Q: Tell us about your mentors and what you learned from them.
A: Wayne Ruga, who started The Center for Health Design. I met him when I was 26 or 27, and I said, “What you are doing is amazing! I want to be involved.” He said, “Okay”-that’s all he said, then he got me more involved than I could have imagined.
Leland Kaiser-I first sat in on a three-hour workshop that he held, where he used one of those old transparency machines. It was amazing. He is a futurist. He talked about working with a hospital that identified as community-based. He said to them, “Then who lives across the street?” So, they went door to door, met the neighbors and asked what was missing from the community. It turned out that none of the local kids were vaccinated.
Also, Steven Spurlock. I was a direct report to Steven at Wnuk Spurlock Architecture, and he taught me how to do things right, such as construction drawings. Having the skills to do things right is a really nice thing.
Q: Where do you go for inspiration?
A: Often, I have conversations with old people. Many individuals are working in a bubble. I like to create bridges and solve problems in non-argumentative ways. Those who can’t make positive change are myopic, mean, small minded. I’d rather say, how can we solve this and move forward? I want to be a part of the inspiration for wanting to create better product and understand issues, to bridge a problem. Working with trade associations and manufacturers has been super rewarding because they want to support doing the right thing, from an evidence-based perspective.
Q: Tell us about your outside interests. I understand that you are a sailor and motorcyclist.
A: Yes. The reason I enjoy both those activities is because you can’t do anything else while you are doing those things. You can’t read or check your texts. You have to focus on the activity at hand.
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