Author(s): Robert Solomon. Published on January 4, 2016.

A Guiding Force in Long-Term Care

Remembering Rob Mayer, an impassioned advocate for growing old gracefully and safely. BY ROBERT SOLOMON

As this issue of NFPA Journal was going to press, we learned of the passing of Robert Mayer, Ph.D., founder and president of the Hulda B. and Maurice L. Rothschild Foundation, a Chicago-based private philanthropy dedicated to improving the lives of elders in long-term care communities.

If you have been following NFPA Journal coverage of changes to NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, related to long-term care initiatives—including stories like “More Home, Less Nursing” (January/February 2010)—or following the progress of the code itself, it’s important to know that Rob Mayer is as responsible for those changes as any NFPA committee, federal agency, or private organization. As the guiding force of the Rothschild Foundation, Rob didn’t want to tweak the idea of long-term care—he wanted to rupture the whole notion of what that care looked like.  

My first encounter with Rob, in 2008, had NFPA on the defensive about what Rob described as “the code [NFPA 101] that didn’t allow open kitchens without those big ugly vent hoods; furniture in corridors; fireplaces in common areas; and resident options to personalize their spaces.” NFPA quickly realized that the traditional nursing home design that had governed for many decades was about to get an eviction notice. 

Robert Mayer

​Robert Mayer, founder and president of The Rothschild Foundation. ​Photo Courtesy: The Rothschild Foundation.

Rob put the resources of the Rothschild Foundation to work and convened the national Long-Term Care Life Safety Task Force in 2009. That group brought a series of code changes forward that ultimately landed in the 2012 edition of NFPA 101, allowing nursing homes to have design elements that provided an array of home-like touches. In the process, nursing homes became long-term care communities; patients became residents; and directed care became person-centered care. 

At the NFPA meetings, summits, and workshops that the Rothschild Foundation sponsored or that Rob keynoted, including the “Summit on Safe, Independent Living: Home Health Care, Aging Populations, and the Residential Environment,” held in November, some new piece of information was always put forth. The challenges associated with naturally occurring retirement communities, or NORCs, for example, was first raised by Rob at a brainstorming session of the Healthcare Interpretations Task Force in 2013. At November’s summit, Rob addressed “Peter Pan housing,” the concept of housing for people who think they will never grow old, and a model that might need another look with modern-era residential design and construction philosophies. 

While Rob is not here to propel us forward in person, he has created enough momentum to keep us thinking proactively, and to make us look twice to make sure progress is not impeded by simple traditions in our codes and standards.

ROBERT SOLOMON is division manager, Building and Life Safety, at NFPA.