Best practices: Help make the move-in decision easy

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Lauren Zimmerman
Lauren Zimmerman

As the CEO of AEC Living, a group of independently operated senior living communities and a Medicare-approved rehabilitation agency located in Alameda, CA, I regularly am tasked with helping potential residents and their families determine when is the right time for assisted living for themselves or their loved ones.

It can be a difficult decision, and our role is to make the process as easy as possible for them. We believe that it is critical to get it right with potential residents and their families on the first visit. I'm sharing here some of the airtight processes we believe should be standard throughout the industry, for all senior living facilities. Based on our experience, these processes can help potential residents and their families make better-informed decisions.

Ask for the physician's report early

Although a physician's report will be necessary during the later phases of the admissions process, obtaining it early allows us to fully evaluate and discuss medical needs during the initial meeting.  We have seen situations in which family members may be unaware of the full medical needs of a loved one and may proceed toward residency only to discover that the community they choose cannot meet their medical and/or financial needs.

Because these needs can serve as a barrier to moving forward into assisted living, we encourage all of our potential residents to come to their first visit prepared with a detailed physician's report, and we encourage all senior living communities to make this a regular practice. It's a win-win for everyone.

Train your staff members to know what prospects look for

A significant element in choosing the right community is the quality of the staff. Families want to feel confident that staff members will take good care of their loved ones. Do your employees know what families are looking for?

  • Do they have time to speak with potential residents and their families, or do they seem rushed?
  • Do they appear genuinely friendly and interested in the residents?
  • Do they interact warmly with current residents, or do they seem stressed and/or overwhelmed?
  • How do they handle emergencies?

Conducting a self-evaluation with these questions in mind will help you improve the quality of important interactions between staff members and potential residents and their families and ensure that your community is presented in the best light. Work with your staff members through each of the possible scenarios so that visitors walk away from your community fully confident that staff members are trained, happy in their jobs and capable of taking care of their loved ones under any circumstance.

Make sure to point out things potential residents will care about — even if they don't ask

Although every community encourages families to take note of their surroundings during their decision, we believe communities must take it one step further. In addition to evaluating staff members and the facilities, we encourage our peers to allow visitors to witness the happiness levels and routines of current residents.

Staff members should be trained to help guide visitors through the decision-making process by answering these questions:

  • Do the residents appear happy?
  • Do they enjoy interacting with one another?
  • Do they seem like people you would enjoy getting to know?
  • Are there hobbies or groups on site that look interesting to you?
  • Do the residents make eye contact with you, or do they seem withdrawn?

If you think your community would not pass this test, then you have a lot more work to do to bring it up to the level where it should be.

Offering a short-term stay is a great option

A question that often arises is, “How do we handle a reticent potential resident?”

Offering potential residents a short-term stay is a great option because it allows for a contractual end date and a potential resident knows that he or she is not tied to the facility, which in turn allows the person to experience the change with less resentment.

For example, at The Lodge in Alameda, we have several long-term residents who first came for respite or short-term stays. Some converted during their respite, some came back a couple times for respite visits and eventually moved in, and a few moved in on respite and then came back six months later, after going home and experiencing the difference.  

Invite residents to stay for a meal and experience community life

Inviting potential residents to a meal with current residents is a good way to help influence older adults to stay.

Do not use the meal as a sales session. Instead, seat potential residents with current residents with whom they will connect, so they can see others who are potential “friends.” Introducing potential residents to actual residents provides a more genuine experience of what it is like to live in your community.

Also consider inviting potential residents to join the community to participate in an activity or two. Whether it is an organized outing, exercise class or lunch-and-learn session, try to pair an activity with a potential resident's expressed interests to help foster a sense of community for someone considering assisted living.

Go above and beyond expectations

The decision to move into assisted living never is easy, and with little information, it's potentially scary or anxiety-provoking. Look for ways that you and your staff members can go above and beyond what potential visitors would expect. Try to make the first visit a welcoming and informative experience, and anticipate what your visitors will look for and what they will ask. Often, following a few simple yet coordinated steps makes the difference between an “undecided” and a “yes” decision.

Lauren Zimmerman-Cook is CEO of AEC Living, a second-generation family-owned group of independently operated senior living communities and a Medicare-approved rehabilitation agency. Her career spans more than 20 years in the senior care industry, where she is focused on driving strategy, business transformation and innovative.<.p>

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