New Cornell Institute Shines with Premiere Symposium

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Welcome to the CIHF Symposium!

The new Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures (2015) role as an important contributor to the fields of senior living, healthcare, and design,was exemplified by its recent symposium: “Hospitality, Health, and Design: In Search of a Healthy Future” held at Cornell University Oct. 9-11, 2016.  The 3-day event brought speakers from both across the US as well as abroad to present papers and ideas in this newly created metaphorical space at the intersection of senior living, hospitality, healthcare, and design.

“Walking the talk” for healthy living was a key component of the event. Activities were not limited to sitting and sharing knowledge, but several breaks of worthwhile length enabled attendees to network while enjoying healthy and delectable snacks provided by the renowned School of Hotel Administration and Statler Hotel staff. Special, healthy break activities like guided meditation, yoga, stretching, and massage therapy were all options.

Attendees relaxing during a massage break

It is impossible to do justice to this event and the many presenters. These curated highlights are meant to provide a meaningful overview.

Presenters and attendees were both renowned experts and lesser knowns–each making a strong positive impact in their fields at varying scales.

Chief Sustainability Officer of Perkins Eastman, Lance Hosey addressed an attendee’s question on how to get clients to buy-in to sustainability if it was not one of their priorities. Hosey wisely recommended “give them what they want [what matters to them] and more.” For example, if they are concerned with efficiency and improving the bottom line, provide it with an environmentally responsible and sustainable solution. They are not mutually exclusive. Sustainability is an integral part of all successful solutions.

Hosey also addressed the U.S.’s fascination with LEED, reminding us that only 1% of the built environment is certified. He had us consider, “How are we taking care of the old?” This post cannot do justice to Hosey’s photos and engrossing presentation. Consult his book The Shape of Green for inspiration and information.

Naomi Sachs, invited us to consider the “landscape as a normalizing environment” and getting out for fresh air as an opportunity to provide a sense of escape/respite from a facility.

Presenter Jennifer Aliber and student Mane Mahrabyan enjoy a healthy break between sessions

Design Programmer Jennifer Aliber reminded us that when designing a healthcare space, there are 2 levels of clients: clinicians and patients. This paradigm was later echoed by John Rijos who described the primary client in senior living as the associates. If they are happy and their needs are met, they will take excellent care of their clients: the residents. Aliber also used exemplary healthcare facilities to provide examples of key concepts. To exemplify that brand is more than a logo, and has benefits as a system, Aliber showed Banner Medical’s development of a system of materials and design components which are a design vocabulary to communicate the brand.

When Alan Dilani, founder and General Director of the International Academy for Design and Health, gave an example of the inappropriateness for human-consumption of all-white or all-black spaces created by architects, it resonated with many in the audience. In Cornell’s department of Design & Environmental Analysis, the core of the education has always been the impact of design on the human users, as that is the basis of all good design. Dilani’s work is founded on, and has been encouraging, a salutogenic approach: with features promoting wellness, as opposed to a pathogenic perspective which is focused on risk factors. This echoes a shift in healthcare, policy and design which he and the Academy have helped to create.

Panelists fielding questions from the audience

The seminar panel and attendees discuss a session

Reminding us that moving into a facility is not a one-way street, Professor Julie Robison of the Center on Aging at UConn taught about the “Money Follows the Person” demonstration project which supports persons living in institutions with the resources and support to move back out into the community. Coming out of the landmark Olmsted Act, combined with a focus on reducing healthcare costs, the goal is to have persons successfully live in the least restrictive setting possible, while still having their physical and/or mental health needs met. Robison shared statistics which portrayed need and also showed the human side: persons living in skilled nursing in Connecticut range in age from 0 to 104. Her session was entitled “Life has been given back to me”, a quote from one of the MFP program participants who despite significant healthcare needs is active in her community, particularly enjoying quilting with her friends.

A new labor and delivery room was presented by HOLT Architects

The symposium featured relevant local work as well, with HOLT Architects and their client, Cayuga Medical Center, providing a case study of a newly created birthing center, which brings spa and hospitality elements into healthcare.

John Rijos '75 and Joe Weisenberger

John Rijos, Hotel ’75 and Joe Weisenberger, VP of ongoing Senior Living course sponsor Welltower REIT

The most memorable part of the symposium was a video created and shown by John Rijos, of Chicago Pacific Founders, formerly of president and COO of Brookdale Senior Living. Moving black and white video of seated elderly residents holding signs representing how people typically see them such as “FEEBLE” and “WEAK” and “BURDEN” were then flipped to represent how they want to be seen with messages of “I FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR ll” and “I GAVE UP EVERYTHING FOR FREEDOM”, the latter particularly resonating with me, as my own parents did just that and the benefits have been, and continue to be, exponential. The audience was moved to tears, and I personally, was reminded of why I have committed my professional life to improving environments for elders.


I am proud to serve as an Industry Scholar to the Cornell Institute for Healthy Futures.  For more information on their important work, please visit