Are you like me? Do you ever roll your eyes when people start talking about culture change? Not so much because it is a bad idea, but because it is so tough to do? This is a great culture change story.

If you were to play buzz phrase bingo, without a doubt one of the choices would be “Culture Change”.  Just for fun, I tried “culture change” in Google, and found more than 5.7 million results.  I have a number of friends and business colleagues who, in one form or another sell or make their living promoting culture change; many of the articles at Senior Housing Forum have culture change as a theme. In spite of that, whenever I hear someone start to talk about culture change, I find myself rolling my eyes because it is so much easier to talk about than to accomplish.  I spent some time talking to Faith Ott the president of Sage Age Strategies and one of my first questions for her, was “what is your favorite success story?”  She immediately launched into a culture change story.  My eyes started to roll a bit, but it turns out to be a really cool story.

Greenwood House

Greenwood House is a continuum of care organization located in in the town of Ewing, New Jersey outside of Trenton.  They offer skilled nursing, assisted living, hospice, memory care, home maker services and kosher “meals on wheels”. Greenwood House was originally founded to provide care and services for aging seniors in the local Jewish community.  In keeping with that mission, they were committed to providing kosher meals and keeping a traditional Jewish Sabbath (sundown Friday night to sundown on Saturday night).   They celebrated all of the Jewish holidays and none of the Christian holidays. They also provided world class care for their residents.  Finally and perhaps most significant to the story, they only accepted residents who practiced the Jewish faith. For most of their history this worked fine.  There was a big Jewish community. There were many wealthy supporters who were committed to the Greenwood House mission and this enabled them to not only provide for elders with means, but to care for those with limited or no resources.  Over time, though, the community demographics changed. There were fewer Jewish elders and fewer wealthy donors. The Greenwood team put more effort into marketing their care and services to the Jewish community but found that even when Jewish patients needed placement, the hospitals hated the exclusive aspect of Greenwood and would often steer patients to other options.  While not quite in crisis, they were on the verge.  In a few short years they had burned through 60% -70% of their endowment and at that rate had only a few years to go before the endowment hit zero.

Finding a Solution

Rick Goldstein, the CEO of Greenwood House knew they needed radical change and that meant outside expert help.  His go to person was Faith Ott at Sage Age. The first thing Sage Age did was do a thorough assessment of Greenwood’s organizational goals and their strengths and weaknesses. What came out of that assessment were two non-negotiable core values:

  • The ability to care for those of the Jewish faith, regardless of income.
  • The ability to maintain a Jewish lifestyle (Sabbath, Kosher Dining, Jewish Holidays).

While Sage Age made a series of recommendation the crucial recommendation was to begin accepting non-Jewish residents.  This was a tough recommendation for the board to embrace because it seemed to fly in the face of their two core values.  As Sage Age processed this recommendation with the board, they made a compelling argument that by accepting non-Jewish residents they would actually be in a better position to protect the two core values and worked the board to create an operating plan that would meet those goals. Today, the community is essentially full, they are rebuilding their endowment and most importantly they are able to provide care to the local Jewish seniors.   The occupancy is about 30% non-Jewish and while the food is kosher and they continue to celebrate the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays, the non-Jewish residents are not required to follow Jewish traditions and are free to celebrate and follow their religious (or non-religious) practices as they please.  

As you look at your organization what is the biggest culture change you have been able to implement in your organization? What big culture change would you like to accomplish in the next 12 months?   Steve Moran