Academic journal article Journal of Case Studies

Whispering Pines: Pining for Answers

Academic journal article Journal of Case Studies

Whispering Pines: Pining for Answers

Article excerpt

Introduction

Lee McBride, an organizational consultant, was preparing for his noon meeting with Tim Hayden of Hayden Architects. When he got to the meeting Hayden wasted no time, "Lee, 1 need some outside help. I recently accepted a position on the board of directors of Whispering Pines, a retirement home here in town, and I have quickly realized that I am in over my head." Hayden went on to explain that when he was recruited he was told that the position was "mainly honorary," and that there was not much to do as a director. Hayden confided in McBride that he accepted the position out of a feeling of obligation. The by-laws of Whispering Pines require all of the board of directors to be members of the Society of Friends, commonly referred to as Quakers. Whispering Pines had a history of having trouble recruiting board members because of this and, after doing some soul searching, Hayden determined that he felt a sense of duty to "step up to the plate and accept the position." "In retrospect," he told McBride, "that may have been a mistake. I don't have a background in business, but even I can see that the place appears to be a total mess. I can't seem to get a clear answer or reliable financial information from the board treasurer, Marge Upman, and I'm afraid that Whispering Pines may be in serious trouble. It appears that we are losing money with our business model and surviving on donations, but I can't be sure. I don't have the time or the expertise to dig into the operations and see what's wrong. I've heard good things about you and want you to take a look at the situation and give the board some recommendations. Will you do it?" McBride responded that before he could commit, he needed to know a little more about Whispering Pines.

Hayden went on to share the following details: Whispering Pines was founded in 1927 as a retirement home for members of the Society of Friends. Over the years, this affiliation requirement had relaxed and now anyone could be admitted. While called a "retirement home," Whispering Pines was technically just a boarding house that provided rooms and meals for seniors. It was not a licensed nursing home, but the staff dispensed medicine that family members provided (without taking formal responsibility for doing so). Hayden stated that, as far as he could tell, this informal practice was based on the assumption that as long as Whispering Pines had less than nine residents the state would not consider a nursing home designation, although, Hayden stressed, "no one can really tell me where that number comes from." Whispering Pines was run by a manager who reported to the board treasurer. Hayden was not quite sure what the manager's duties and responsibilities were, but he did know that she collected the rent, planned the meals, and purchased the groceries. "Exactly how she does those things and what type of controls the board has in place is unclear," sighed Hayden. Very little financial information was available and the board made decisions based largely on opinions and perceptions. "I have a suspicion that we are losing money each month and that we've reached the point where we don't have any reserves left to cover the monthly losses. It doesn't look like we're breaking even but there are no financiais available to confirm or disprove this. We have the capacity for nine residents but currently we only have seven, and, as far as I can tell, there is no active recruitment or marketing plan. That is an overview but you need to know I don't feel confident about the validity of any of this information."

It was with a slight feeling of being overwhelmed that McBride decided to take on the engagement. After agreeing upon his fees for the project (which Hayden agreed to personally cover), McBride said, "Okay, get me a copy of the by-laws, all the financial information you do have, and anything else you feel may be valuable to me. Then, have Marge Upman tell the manager that I will be stopping by for a tour of the facility and to interview her about the operation. …

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