Retirement community finds a future

Posted: January 18, 2013

Stapeley, a Germantown retirement community founded by Quakers in 1904, lost $5.7 million over five years through the first half of 2010 and needed an outside rescue.

Stapeley's board sought help from Quaker organizations, such as Friends Services for the Aging and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, but neither was willing, according to records of a Quaker meeting.

Urged to look beyond the Quaker community, Stapeley's board found Wesley Enhanced Living, a non-profit Hatboro operator of retirement communities with United Methodist roots, which took over Stapeley on April 1, 2010.

But saving Stapeley was not a sure thing.

"Our hope was that if we could salvage it, it would take us three or maybe five years to reinvest the way we have in our other communities, but the turnaround was so much faster," said Jeff Petty, president and chief executive of Wesley, which was founded in 1885.

Already last year, Wesley began planning a $5 million renovation of Stapeley, which occupies five acres at the corner of Greene Street and Washington Lane. Construction is scheduled to start next month, Petty said in an interview this week.

"I think we're going to be able to retain the charm of that place, but dust off some of the cobwebs," Petty said.

The nine-month Stapeley project, which is concentrated in remodeling the facility's 120-bed nursing home, is part of nearly $80 million in renovations in recent years at four Wesley continuing-care retirement communities in Doylestown, Upper Moreland Township, and in Northeast Philadelphia.

Wesley's communities have 1,200 residents and employ more than 900.

Stapeley, founded by Anna T. Jeanes, a philanthropist after whom Jeanes Hospital is named, struggled as an independent, current executive director Paul Zlotolow said.

"Freestanding communities like this one can struggle because you don't have the buying power when it comes to your supplies," said Zlotolow, who worked as a management intern at Stapeley in 2010.

The institution was squeezed in 2008 and 2009, unable to meet the financial conditions of its $13 million in debt, which remains with the organization under Wesley.

Stapeley's bylaws required approval of the transfer to Wesley by the organization that oversees Philadelphia's Quaker meetings. The approval was granted on Jan. 31, 2010, according to the minutes of Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting. No money changed hands.

During Wesley's first full year of ownership, fiscal year ended June 30, 2011, Stapeley - now called Wesley Enhanced Living at Stapeley - swung to a $1 million profit from a $1.8 million loss.

"We were able to eliminate a lot of unnecessary expenses," Petty said.

For example, the previous managers were spending $10,000 a month on ambulance transport for residents, Petty said. Wesley uses its own vans, he said.


Contact Harold Brubaker at 215-854-4651 or hbrubaker@phillynews.com.

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