With a nationwide search for a CEO still underway, senior living non-profit Kendal Corporation is both going back to its roots and branching out into new areas as it gears up for its next chapter.
Last December, Kendal announced that then-CEO Sean Kelly was leaving the Newark, Delaware-based organization to join Front Porch Communities. Since that announcement, Kendal has celebrated several major milestones,, such as relocating its corporate headquarters to the University of Delaware campus in September and the soon-to-happen opening of its long-awaited Enso Village community in Healdsburg, California.
This year has been a good one for Kendal, and it is taking lessons from its recent successes and applying them to future projects, including a second Enso Village location in the Los Angeles area.
With those accomplishments behind the organization and a new year just over the horizon, now is time for Kendal to springboard into a focus on “growth and impact, with a new emphasis on innovation and relationships with universities,” according to Kendal Chief Strategy Officer Stephen Bailey.
“Because of the success of Enso Village, we do have a lot of opportunities out there, and we need to be selective and smart about how we grow,” Bailey said.
Measuring success, mitigating pain
Among the successes being celebrated across Kendal is that every affiliate has more than 90% occupancy for its independent living units, a number that exceeds even some pre-Covid years. The majority of the 11 Kendal locations are life plan communities with a full continuum of care, from independent living to skilled nursing..
“I think it highlights the success of the life plan community model,” Bailey said. “We’re pretty proud of the occupancy of all of the Kendal affiliates around the system.”
The development of Enso Village is another milestone for Kendal, which Bailey said is a project eight years in the making. Done in partnership with the San Francisco Zen Center, the new community is currently on schedule to welcome residents next month.
Enso Village has been sold out “for some time now,” with 300 residents preparing to move in, and is opening with an 80% occupancy rate by February.
“It’s hit a number of innovative nerves for Kendal in terms of sustainability, the way it was financed, the partnership [with San Francisco Zen Center] and the focus on mindfulness and meditation,” Bailey said.
This type of senior housing community is noted to be new for Kendal, and Bailey added it is new for senior living as a whole. Based on the early successes already seen at the community, Kendal hopes to extend the Enso footprint to other northern California before likely bringing it to the East Coast.
Part of the success for Enso Village is attributed to the marketing towards Californians, Bailey said, and the hope will be for the second community, Enso Verde, to be equally successful when it opens in the coming years.
While Enso Verde isn’t anticipated to be completed for a few years now, there are already 100 depositors for the location.
“That’s a big deal for Kendal,” Bailey said.
Kendal also is noting the contributions of its women leaders, who comprise 92% of the company’s “CEOs” leading the organization’s 11 affiliates. Though that occurred by coincidence, the organization’s top leader believes that it is a fact worth touting — “and one we embrace.”
“When compared to CEOs and leadership positions filled by women in the Fortune 500, and even many senior living systems in the U.S., yes, we are unique,” Kendal interim CEO Amy Harrison told Senior Housing News in a statement. “Until women business leaders are noticed for their expertise, not their gender, women will continue to be underrepresented in positions of leadership.”
Despite the successes Kendal has seen in 2023, there are still struggles and pain points within the organization, particularly in staffing, which has become a common trend within the industry. Recruitment and retention are pain points in particular, and Bailey said the operator’s staffers are in some cases having to work in communities that are located in areas with high costs of living.
Enso Village, for example, is located in an area with a prohibitively high cost of living for low-wage workers. But despite those challenges, the community still needs to hire around 120 staff members within the next year for it.
To mitigate this,Kendal is looking to collaborate with affordable housing developers so staff members can afford to live where they work. Kendal isn’t involved in the development or the management of such communities, but it does stand to benefit from them, Bailey said.
Already, the organization has completed one such effort at Enso Village, where it worked with a developer to bring 100 units of workforce housing within walking distance of the community.
For the upcoming Enso Village community in northern California, the organization is looking to co-locate workforce on a neighboring parcel to the senior housing community.
“The ideal would be that the architecture and the services are intermingled so that it’s almost seamless, but that they would be separately owned parcels and separately managed,” Bailey added.
Additionally, Bailey highlighted the increased costs for financing, as interest rates have only continued to climb since the time Enso Village was financed, and supply chain issues have led to higher costs for developing Kendal communities.
“All of that is settling down, but it’s still a daily struggle for new projects,” Bailey said.
Evolution and experimentation
As Kendal looks to its next chapter, the organization is readying new ways of doing business, all while getting back to its founding as an organization decades ago.
The organization this year moved its headquarters to the campus of the University of Delaware, reflecting a new vision for working with academic institutions. And looking ahead, the organization is looking to continue strengthening its ties with colleges and universities outside of the corporate office relocation, such as by locating a Kendal community on campus or partnering for programming.
There are a few benefits of partnering with universities despite the difficulties associated with it, such as long process times, Bailey said. Such communities give residents access to university services and functions, while it also gives students a chance to start a career in senior living.
Already, the organization has some plans in the works to bring students into the senior living mix with the University of Delaware, but nothing ready to announce just yet, Bailey said. Kendal is also engaged with national organizations such as the Vision Center, which works to foster awareness of senior living and help facilitate relationships with universities.
“Some of them are not big initiatives, but they are important,” Bailey said. “That’s part of our agenda … to expose more students to this career path and take a long game approach to the staffing issue.”
At the same time, Kendal is taking a fresh look at how it operates. The organization is in the midst of finalizing a new affiliation agreement — the “fundamental document” that governs how Kendal works with and supports its affiliates, Bailey said.
“Probably the top priority for the corporate office is supporting our affiliates in every way,” he added.
Looking ahead, Kendal is seeking to grow beyond its 11 current affiliates with a mix of development, acquisitions and affiliations. Top of mind for the organization is pursuing additional affiliations with other non-profit communities to continue to grow, similar to what Garden Spot Village recently did by affiliating with Frederick Living to scale up for future growth.
Kendal also has another deal in the works in northern California on top of Enso Verdes, and is actively exploring new communities on the East Coast.
The organization is additionally exploring a new community model wherein older adults would live in a congregate building with a live-in care manager affiliated with Kendal at Home, the organization’s home-based services arm.
“[It’s a] middle market and rental project, with at-home services baked into the project,” Bailey said. “[Residents] would get care coordination, all sorts of health and wellness benefits as part of the residency in the community.”
Bailey added: “The reason we’re exploring that is because it’s much more affordable than the traditional CCRC model with assisted living and memory care in the building.”
Also top of mind for the organization is its roots as a faith-based Quaker institution. Bailey said the organization is living those values by adopting a culture of reaching consensus.
“We’re going to emphasize that perhaps more in the future,” he said. “That’s what makes Kendal special.”
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