By Jack Cumming

Not long ago we learned that Kendal-Crosslands Communities was disaffiliating from Kendal Corporation. That was a shock. The announcement was low-key, emphasizing that the disaffiliation was mutual and without rancor.

The Age of Spin

I was struggling with that characterization of mutuality when Fox News Media announced that it and Tucker Carlson had mutually agreed to disaffiliate. We live in an era when hard, fact-based news is scarce. We live in the Age of Spin.

Kendal-Crosslands Communities is large in its own right, with roughly 900 residents in four communities on 500 acres in southeast Pennsylvania. It originated in the 1970s as a ministry of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. The Yearly Meeting describes its vision as “Living with our neighbors. Growing into beloved community.” A commitment to Quaker values defines the underlying identity, the brand if you prefer, of Kendal-Crosslands.

Quaker Values

My own experience of Quaker values is that it is a belief in the worth of every human being. Every individual has a direct relationship with God. Every person is, therefore, precious, leading Quakers to favor peace and nonviolence, to live simply and with integrity, and to treat each person, and each other, with respect. Perhaps these should be universal values and not uniquely Quaker, but our world is far from that ideal.

Consistent with those values of inclusion and respect for all, the recent leadership of Kendal Corporation has not been limited to committed Quakers but has included a Methodist and a Roman Catholic. Most recently, Kendal Corporation has been opening new communities in collaboration with Zen organizations. That reflects the value of finding goodness in everyone. The guiding motives of the Society of Friends are neither self-serving nor enterprise-aggrandizing.

Financial Benefits

The reasons cited for the disaffiliation are primarily financial. Kendal-Crosslands Communities has the substance to be able to provide on its own the services that Kendal Corporation supports. Thus, right off the bat, Kendal-Crosslands can avoid the redundancy and other costs of having mirrored functional officers at the corporate level duplicating those same resources at the local level. That’s an excess cost that is inherent in any hierarchical corporate structure.

Other cost savings and opportunities for flexibility are cited, primarily in information technology and electronic health records. The big hospital-directed, or physician-directed, EHR systems do not adequately meet the needs of the care services that seniors require. Untangling the promise of EHR is complex and better achieved within a single team structure rather than having dual teams, one at corporate and one local.

Consensus Over Hierarchy

Moreover, with a central entity like Kendal Corporation — whether it is viewed as a support entity or a control entity — there is a tendency for those in the central office to view themselves as superiors over those in the communities. The fact, however, is that expertise and good judgment know no hierarchy.

From one perspective, Kendal Corporation is not hierarchical, with it being considered no more than a support affiliate among a coterie of community affiliates. That perspective, however, can be hard to maintain, as many inside and outside the “system” may view the central entity as like a holding company. Holding companies tend toward control.

Compared to other faith communities, though, the Society of Friends is far less hierarchical. In that sense, it’s consistent with our nation’s founding concept that all are created equal. Some religions maintain quasi-monarchical structures with laypeople at the bottom. Those top-down structures can find their way as well into senior living, with corporate officers at the pinnacle and residents and entry-level employees at the bottom of the decision tree.

Quaker Identity

With that, one can only speculate as to what value factors may have contributed to the “business decision” to disaffiliate from the corporate entity. One might speculate that Kendal-Crosslands may have wanted to preserve its identity as a specifically Quaker organization. There are many organizations founded by Quakers that continue to follow Quaker principles, though the Quaker identity may be unofficial.

Quaker Oats, for instance, was never affiliated in any way with the Society of Friends, though the founders noted that Quakers were known for honesty and integrity, so they chose a brand logo that epitomized their commitment to those values. Some Quakers, though, have protested ads featuring, say, Popeye, since he could be macho verging on violent.

Purely Financial?

Thus, unwinding the spin, my personal best guess, and it’s no more than that, is that there is a clash of values behind this dramatic development that combined with the “simpler is less costly” business value. There’s a lesson for everyone here. Value (low cost with high benefits) and integrity (putting the customer first) matter. Value and integrity matter in all businesses but nowhere more than in congregate senior living.