John Lembo – RiverSpring Living
John Lembo doesn’t live on the 32-acre campus of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York City, but as vice president for facilities management for its parent organization, RiverSpring Living, he says it feels like home.
At RiverSpring Living, Lembo is stewarding two major capital projects designed to provide residents new levels of comfort and security–work that’s gone on while keeping residents, staff and visitors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s been a trying and challenging time, and Lembo wouldn’t trade a minute of it, he adds.
“I worked for 10 years for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, and it was amazing, I got to travel to beautiful locations and do great work throughout the country,” Lembo says. “But the most important work is what I’m doing right now. I’m helping provide a safe, comfortable environment for seniors and staff. I feel I’m doing the best work of my career.”
Building on tradition
RiverSpring Living was founded in 1917 as the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Harlem before moving to Riverdale. Now led by President and CEO Daniel Reingold, who’s following in his father’s footsteps in those roles, the organization serves about 18,000 New York City residents, Lembo says.
Along with the Hebrew Home, the campus is home to the Derfner Judaica Museum, RiverWalk independent living residences, assisted living, managed long term care, rehabilitation and in-home services. RiverSpring Living also operates the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Justice, an emergency shelter for those who’ve experienced elder abuse. The center offers legal assistance and social and care management services in partnership with the 600-bed nursing home.
By the end of 2021 or in early 2022, a new 69-unit assisted living and memory care center is expected to open. It’s a project Lembo has managed since arriving at RiverSpring Living in July 2019.
Sited on the campus above the Hudson River with a view of the New Jersey Palisades beyond, the new assisted living center will be outfitted with circadian lighting, high speed internet, a sophisticated building automation and control system, closed-circuit TV and fob-based security. There are also three beauty salons, custom upholstered furnishings and a culinary facility that can serve up to 200 residents and guests, Lembo says.
No test, no entry
Construction continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, even as RiverSpring Living adjusted its operations. For instance, no one is allowed on campus without negative COVID-19 test results, Lembo says.
RiverSpring Living performs as many as 1,000 tests per week—staffers are available to do the tests for 11 hours each weekday. The Hebrew Home offers the Moderna vaccine every Thursday and 98 percent of its residents (and more than 80 percent of its staff) are fully vaccinated. All new hires must either be vaccinated or be willing to receive the vaccine as part of their employment, Lembo adds.
During the height of the pandemic, when nursing homes could not allow visitation, Hebrew Home offered drive-through visits. Residents in a glass-enclosed atrium could see visitors in their vehicles and everyone chatted using wireless communication devices. While restrictions have been eased, everyone must keep their masks on when on campus. Full personal protection equipment and face shields are still required in some instances, Lembo adds.
“We’ve upped our standard for air filtration to MERV 13, the highest that our systems will accommodate, and increased outside air delivery through our HVAC systems,” he says. “In our new projects, we’re considering systems that will accommodate HEPA filtration to help prevent the spread of airborne pathogens.”
As the pandemic wanes, Lembo and RiverSpring Living are also developing River’s Edge, a new 270-unit continuing care retirement community currently in the design phase and scheduled to break ground within the next two years, after the demolition of a campus building.
Lembo says River’s Edge is the first of its kind in New York City, allowing residents to go from independent living to assisted living care as needed. Built on the site of a nursing home, it offers one- and two-bedroom apartments with valet parking, an indoor pool and spa, roof deck and a green roof, and a high-end restaurant.
Lembo will oversee the construction project, adding Reingold is “the visionary force” for the model and the design and architects Perkins Eastman, experienced in senior living design, also understand the practical elements needed for safe, comfortable living.
“I’m here to work with the architects and engineers about practicality and design, and the need to optimize for efficient operations,” he says. “I come from a family of artists and I look at engineering as an art form.”
Engineered for accomplishment
Born in Queens, he grew up on Staten Island and commuted to Brooklyn to earn his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from Pratt Institute in 1986. He earned that degree after getting an associate degree in mechanical technology in 1983 from the City University of New York-College of Staten Island.
He began his career at the firm of Gibbs & Cox in 1986, then became a mechanical field engineer for Olympia & York on the World Financial Center project in Manhattan. He was also facilities supervisor for Toys “R” Us from 1990-93, and a project manager for A.J. Celiano Inc.
After joining Starwood Hotels & Resorts in January 1999 as its senior director of energy, Lembo oversaw how the company managed energy to run its resorts and hotels and implemented energy conservation efforts through capital projects. His team’s efforts earned the Energy Star Partner of the Year Award for Hospitality for two consecutive years.
After leaving Starwood in September 2010, Lembo began consulting on building systems and energy management and sustainability as vice president and managing director of the Ferreira Group, as managing principal of The Navitas Group, and then as vice president of engineering for TRC Energy Services.
From his first contact with leadership at RiverSpring, Lembo was eager to join the company.
“It was enticing because of the size, the intricate nature of the physical plant and the location,” Lembo says. “My first interview with the CFO had me saying ‘I have to work here.’ This is the culmination of everything I’ve done, and I know I can make a difference.”
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