At The Greystone Event 2013, guests enjoyed a panel of adult children who had recently moved parents or in-laws into continuing care retirement communities. Our “Marketer” panelist comes from an advertising and marketing background. She has spent more than 20 years working in senior living, advising community and organization executives on how to better market their products and services. She and her in-laws live in the Midwest United States. Our “Operator” panelist comes from a hospitality background. He spent more than 30 years in the hotel industry, including on-site management roles in markets around the world and also as an executive working from corporate headquarters. He currently lives in California, and his parents live in a community in the Southeast United States. Read a brief summary of their thoughts in the article below. You may also download a brochure with the full transcript using this link:
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The Back Story
Marketer: My husband’s parents perceived a senior living community as the same kind of small-town, state-run nursing home that their parents had lived in. They were very hesitant to start the process, but we planted the seed and watered it and let it grow over time.
Operator: My dad is 86 years old, and my mom is 88 years old. They bought a beach condominium in 1986, and they moved into it in 1989. They called it their Camelot, and I believe they truly loved every moment they were in that condominium. They watched sunsets, they walked the beach, and it was everything they thought retirement would be. My sister and I started talking about moving my parents into a retirement community, primarily because of my dad’s failing health. His sight was getting bad, his hearing was going, he’d had a knee operation and a back operation, and while he had recovered from both, he was not as mobile as he once was. The burden for my mom, who is still really vibrant, of taking care of my dad was starting to be noticeable, and we could see where it was going to lead in the coming years. We knew talking to them about moving was going to be very difficult because of this Camelot environment that they lived in.
Marketer: My mother-in-law was really open to the concept. My father-in-law? No way. He was a big fish in a small pond. He was an attorney, had worked for one of the largest employers in their small town, and so he was connected. He had his golf buddies, he had his card buddies, and there was no way he was leaving that town. He was willing to talk, though, so we started talking.
Operator: We started to talk to mom and dad about it, and they wanted nothing to do with it. After a few months, they said they would talk about it, but only under the guise of not going anywhere.
Marketer: My father-in-law called five or six communities, and only three of them sent collateral packages. I would remind everybody that if somebody picks up the phone and says “Send me an information packet,” they’re really interested. They may not be coming to an event, but they want information, so send it.
Operator: On the financial side, we looked at a lot of different plans. Mom and dad were way past the point where they could handle the financial stuff. My first motivation was to try and get them into a place they could afford on their own, but we were ready to step in and help if we needed to, because we were so concerned that they land in the right place and sustain the style of living they had been enjoying. The community we ultimately chose was very flexible with us. They provided some really good financial options, and we ended up deciding that that was going to be the place.
Marketer: People close to my in-laws were really mean. Their long-time friends were all over them saying, “That is the worst decision, you should not let them institutionalize you.” All the things you think people say, they really say that stuff. I didn’t think people that age would be like that, but they were.
Operator: The great news was, when we toured the community, we found out that one of their long-term friends lived there, and we got to visit with them. Wonderful couple, very active, and they were very close friends of mom and dad. They provided kind of a third-party endorsement that we otherwise couldn’t have provided, and we really turned a corner in terms of getting them interested in possibly moving.
Marketer: They had been in their house for 45 years. When they moved in they were newly married. They moved in with their clothes and a bed, and they accumulated everything else over those 45 years. So when they made the deposit with the community and went back home, it was like, “What do we do?” They didn’t know how to call a moving company, and they may have received information from the team at the community, but they didn’t know where to start.
Operator: The process of moving was completely overwhelming to them, all aspects. But my wife and I decided that we would take on that responsibility, so we contacted a mover. We had them go out and assess how much stuff they had to move and actually book a date, which you have to do, and thank God we did that, because — Guess what? — as we got toward March, the conversation came up that, “We don’t think we want to go.” At that point we had a lot invested and a lot of plans made. It was not an easy conversation, but it was a little easier because we had more at stake. So in the first week of March, my wife and I went back to the condominium, we moved my folks out and we made the 2-hour drive to the community.
Marketer: When we took our first tour, my in-laws had never been to a CCRC before. When we arrived, the salesperson wasn’t there so the executive director toured us. That was OK. We toured some available apartments. As we were driving away, my mother-in-law asked me what I thought. I told her I’d seen a lot of communities and that my opinion didn’t matter. She said, “I hate to tell you this because I told you I was ready, but I would rather die in the house I’m in than move into that community.” And I was like, “Oh …,” because it wasn’t a bad community.
Operator: My sister, wife and I show up at the apartment. The movers are there, and we realize we don’t have the key. There was no one there to meet us, so I got in my car and drove to the concierge. I told her about the issue, and she said, “No problem.” She was very nice, and she promised an engineer would come over and provide us with keys. Sure enough, an engineer showed up in 15 minutes. But from a hospitality aspect, arrival and sense of arrival is job No. 1. You just can’t miss that. And to not have someone there to welcome us and give us a bottle of water, to talk about the day or talk about dining or whatever, I thought was a huge miss and really a hospitality sin of sorts.
Marketer: After they moved in, my in-laws would make the 2-hour drive back to visit old friends. They would have what they call “nip and nibbles” on Sunday nights. We’d always ask them how it went, and, after about two trips back, they would say, “Man! Those people are so old! I can’t believe we hung out with them … they can’t hear, they can’t get around. They really need to move into a community!”
Operator: We saw some really terrific people who were in customer-facing positions that really wanted to help and who were just super customer advocates, and they just didn’t know what they were doing. They hadn’t been trained.
Marketer: My mother-in-law loved it from the beginning. She said as soon as she moved in that it was like being on vacation every day, and she loved it. She doesn’t have to really do anything, and she thinks that is great. My father-in-law on the other hand, he was very nervous whether or not they could afford it financially. That was the big thing for him, the financial side. But now he’s made those new friends and connections, and I’m happy to say that he was recently elected to the resident council. He’s very eager to contribute in whatever way he can.
Operator: My mom and dad have been at their community for about three months. They had a pretty rough start. Today, I can tell you I believe they’re beginning to embrace the experience. They’re beginning to use more of the facilities and resources that are available. They aren’t calling it home yet, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and I think we’re going to get there.