Getting to Know Steve Leone, Principal of Senior Living and Acute Healthcare

Steve Leone is an award-winning design professional with over 35 years of experience in architecture. He has an extensive background in the senior living and healthcare industries. Steve serves on the Board for the New Jersey Advocates for Aging Well and is an active member of LeadingAge and the NJ Alliance for Culture Change. He is a published author and a public speaker. Get to know Steve below!

What inspired you to become an architect?

My love of architecture stems from my father. He was a talented woodworker, specializing in cabinetry. I grew up hammering nails, cutting boards, and drawing. It was a fantastic bonding experience with my father that fueled a fascination with how things are built—particularly buildings.

What industries do you serve? Which areas are growing? 

I currently serve the senior living and healthcare markets as a Principal at Spiezle. These sectors have made a significant rebound since the pandemic, and we’ve witnessed a growing number of inquiries as a result. Currently, our clients seem more focused on right-sizing —we are continually asked to look for strategies and efficiencies that keep them relevant and sustaining.

For instance, one of our clients asked us to design an addition that more than doubled the size of their existing facility, without adding new beds, to enhance the environment for its residents. In so doing, this particular facility has elevated to better match newer facilities recently built by that same client across its enterprise. In this case, right-sizing meant single occupancy rooms, a greater number of amenities, and options for dining that did not previously exist at that specific facility.

Tell us about your practice and what you do?

In today’s world, change is not constant, it is our operating system; the impacts of COVID punctuated this philosophy, especially in the senior living and healthcare space. Clients have drastically changed how they operate their businesses. Whether it’s dealing with labor shortages, rising interest rates, or supply chain issues, operators are challenged to remain solvent and maintain quality services for residents, patients, and staff.

These circumstances are driving a greater desire to focus on planning for the future. Given these factors, we are more involved than ever in planning work. Our clients constantly think about how and what they should do to mitigate future viral outbreaks and be better positioned to manage accordingly. Simultaneously, there is continued drive towards more hospitality and resident-friendly amenities.  Without exception, operators are focused on fostering positive outcomes and lifestyle for patients and residents.

We are continually asked to build flexibility within our projects. Flexibility has taken on a new meaning that may be better qualified as providing means to pivot or change direction when facing unexpected challenges. We now design spaces that can be both isolated and aggregated to better support observation, decontamination, reduced labor force, and better manage visitation. Building in flexibility is not a new premise however, we now have to provide alternate options if the supply chain can’t provide the product or added labor is required. Flexibility extends to all facets of the project, not just the end product. Technology continues to play a role in expanding strategies to test that flexibility and new opportunities.

What is some common advice you provide for clients?

Educate and collaborate. Educate your staff, your patients and residents, their families, AND policy makers. Many of our clients do this which quite frankly, is how I’ve learned. I always take opportunities to speak with newer clients and offer them insight that has come from working with our other clients by shedding light on circumstances that may in fact be very similar to theirs. I see the look of reassurance and solace when they hear that they’re not alone in dealing with some very trying issues.

The senior living industry is tightly knit and generally very collaborative. We saw a level of camaraderie and support for one another during the pandemic that I’ve not witnessed anywhere else. There are of course, newer systems and administrators coming into the industry that may not have the experience or network developed yet. I make it a point to help connect folks to help in some way, mitigate those concerns through collaboration. In fact, that is the very intent of the Aging Forward event we host annually. We hope to strengthen relationships and connections amongst our client base.

What are the latest architectural trends?

I mentioned our more recent work in master planning and within that context, we are universally asked to bring forward different and newer models of housing. We’ve leaned on our multi-family practice experts to test how age-friendly some of their newer products may be. Our hybrid homes are one example of this crossover analysis.

Hospitality and authenticity continue to push the boundaries of senior living and healthcare environments. With the conflux of better products, more intuitive technology, end-user demand, and the unwavering drive our clients have to elevate lifestyle, it is quite an exciting time to be a designer in this space. There seem to be more choices and options than ever, and our end-users are not silent on requiring them. A more intergenerational viewpoint will further drive our designs to consider options that we may not have in previous years. We do need to proceed with some caution as rising interest rates will certainly have an impact. The demand, however, remains strong.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I would say the success of our Aging Forward roundtable and giving back. It’s a sincere feeling of accomplishment and contribution when our clients tell us the event was fruitful and that they want to be invited to the next one. On a personal note, the time spent working on non-profit boards and age-related committees has deepened my sensitivity towards aging and more importantly, aging well.

What are you surprisingly good at?

My colleagues say I’m calm under pressure and a great presenter, but they might just be saying that to get me on stage!  I can also carry a tune and cut a rug. Our next-gen readers may need to research those phrases.

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