September 21-23, 2021
Austin Convention Center | Austin, TX

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The Leaflet Article



Jenabeth Ferguson

A few weeks ago, in Austin during my opening comments I encouraged the audience to ENGAGE. My message was geared towards their experience that week when they were all together. I empathized with each of them because I know how difficult it is nowadays to travel to conferences. Our children’s schedules are so over-packed that one parent out of town requires spreadsheets to keep track of who will get who, where and when. Not to mention so many of us are taking care of aging parents and those responsibilities need to be covered. And I haven’t even mentioned the time away from the office. My point on that Monday morning was they had all made the effort and were present at the conference, so I wanted them to be really present. To engage with their fellow attendees to talk with speakers and exhibitors – all of whom had made the same effort to be in Austin and had a wealth of information to share.

 A little while later, Sonia Rhodes who was our opening keynote   had everyone take out their phones and show their tablemates   a recent photo of a loved one. The change in the energy level   in the room was palpable as people were even compelled to   get out of their seat to see someone else’s loved one or share   their photo. After a few minutes, Sonia regained the attention of   the audience and told them that the buildings they design, the   spaces they create are for those loved ones in the photos they   just shared. It was a collective aha moment. You could almost   hear the breath we all held as the reality of what Sonia just said   became clear.


Designing, planning, building healthcare facilities is hard work. Creating healing spaces in highly regulated, sterile environments is not easy. Most of the sessions in Austin talked about trends and successes and ROI and budgets and all the important stuff it takes to do the job at hand. But in that moment Sonia reminded us why all those things are important. That we are creating the space our loved ones will be in when they are at their most vulnerable.

That provided motivation to every person to truly engage over the next three days. You could see it in the interaction outside of session rooms and in exhibitor booths. And it was not small talk, it was real connection.  We had a group of emerging leaders at the event who we wanted to hear from. We wanted them to tell us about their experience and talk about ways we can involve the next generations of healthcare designers. One of these young professionals, remarked that they were surprised by how so many conversations started not about the most recent article someone read or project they are working on, but rather they started with something personal. Whether it be, how is the family or how was that trip you just took. Perhaps that is more a commentary on how the different generations connect but I found it interesting that it was what they noticed.  Clearly, we are engaging though, if that is how conversations start.

I still think a reminder in today’s world is valuable. It’s a fast-paced world we live in now. Social media and technology make being connected very easy. However true engagement really can only happen face to face. It is why events like the Symposium are still so vital for our success not just as business professionals but as human beings. We get to be reminded why we do the work we do. We get to connect with people who face the same challenges but have vastly different experiences and backgrounds. We get to learn while looking another human being in the eyes versus looking at a screen.

As we head into the holiday season I hope you take my message outside of the confines of the Austin Convention Center. Be sure you engage with your family and friends when you are with them.  And mark your calendars for Boston September 17-19, 2019! 

Be well,

Jenabeth Ferguson
Vice President, Symposium Director
Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo

P.S. Have a thought about the Symposium? Please feel free to contact me at any time at

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