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Before the pandemic, finding the right senior living community for an aging loved one started and ended with campus tours. But with health restrictions in place for both the facilities and its potential residents, this part of the process has seen many changes, according to Christy Cunningham, vice president of sales and marketing at Judson Retirement Community in Cleveland, and Deanna Snider, community relations specialist at Menorah Park in Beachwood.

“It is particularly difficult to explore alternate living options, given the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, and we understand,” Snider began. “To safety share all that we have to offer, we engage in personalized virtual tours via FaceTime, Skype or Zoom. I find that a potential new resident finds comfort when I personally ‘walk them through’ the residence, answering their questions as we go through. It’s almost like they are in the space with me.”

Snider added technology can be the next best thing in this case.

“I spend as much time as they need with these personal virtual tours,” she said. “This is a big decision for them, and I make sure I give it the attention it deserves. Our nursing team is also offering virtual assessments for admission into the assisted living residences.”

With reduced ability to tour communities, Cunningham said this has put more emphasis on other parts of the process – like initial research.

“Normally, families would be searching online, but maybe before COVID-19, they weren’t taking as much time online as they should’ve been and can now,” she explained. “So, it’s the customer taking the initiative to explore the company website and doing a thorough research and scavenging online. Between that and the providers’ side, many of us are making efforts to put more information online.”

Cunningham added this could take the form of more videos, floor plans, image galleries, resident testimonies or virtual tours. Additionally, she said the senior living industry has been “reluctant” to put exact pricing on websites, but it’s something that many are opting to add to informational packets. After that, prospective residents can schedule a phone consultation.

“It’s about being transparent, and that is allowing providers to recognize that they need to already provide this information online,” Cunningham said. “Touring isn’t the only way to get to know a community, though it is the most utilized way. It’s about taking the time to get to know a community and ask questions. Don’t wait for the tour process to do that.”

For many families, the pandemic lines up with their first time exploring senior living options. Both Snider and Cunningham had advice for families who might be shocked at how different the process is from what they expected.

“Plan ahead, and understand that moving in a stressful time or in a hurry due to changing medical conditions is not easy,” Snider stated. “Having made plans well in advance will result in a smoother transition. Talk to your loved one and make sure they are on board with the move.”

It’s not a bad idea to ask for help either, Snider added.

“Utilize your support systems,” she said. “Take it one step at a time to divide and conquer. Seek and talk with those that you know that have gone through this process before you. What did they find helpful? What did they learn that they wish they had known before?”

Cunningham said, “There are families outside of the COVID-19 situation that have had to make this decision in less than ideal ways. My family has also been in this predicament, and the thing I’ve learned is to research. Don’t wait until you’re in a crisis to start the process. Looking at it objectively can be really helpful since you can see what is happening behind the scenes and what each community’s response has been to that.”

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