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Taking a walk-in tour of a senior community may have negative results.

When I opened my doors in 2006, I began touring and evaluating communities under wrap; meaning, I didn’t volunteer to the admissions director at a community that I was a consultant. I did this because I wanted to see how an outsider would be treated during an unexpected “walk-in”, if the community was a mess from a housekeeping standpoint, and how long I would have to wait for someone to take care of me. All my findings have been duly noted, documented, and shared with my clients.

The practice of “walk-in” tours is a great strategy when you’re conducting your senior living search. In my opinion, your first tour should always be a confirmed appointment with the admissions director. The second tour (you’ll always want to take a second one to confirm your first impressions) should be unannounced. That way, you’ll receive an initial tour from the person who has expertise in the care, features, and amenities that a community has to offer. Many times, the admissions director will have marketing responsibilities that will cause him/her to be out of the building. If you choose to tour at a time when the admissions director isn’t available, you will be handed off to the activity, maintenance, or dietary director. At times, the “manager of the day” is responsible for conducting the tours on the weekends, another time when the admissions director may not be available. Unless that person has been thoroughly trained on how to conduct a good tour, you’ll be on the receiving end of a presentation that’s unsatisfactory. In the end, you may pass on a community that is totally acceptable as exemplified in the following “real life story.”


Real-Life Story

My client was an 85 year old gentleman, accompanied by his two children. His spouse had Alzheimer’s disease, disruptive behavior disorder, and needed to be placed in a secure unit. His own health was declining, and I was given explicit instructions to find a community in a designated location preference.

I found several nursing homes that fit his specifications. Since the children were both working, they insisted on taking the tours over the weekend. When I called to make an appointment, the admissions director told me she was off that weekend, and to stop in any time because the “manager of the weekend” would take care of us. I had serious reservations about taking this approach to a tour because we wouldn’t be speaking with the true expert on the community. I had placed other clients in this particular home and was aware of the admissions director’s adeptness at describing the features it had to offer. When I expressed my concern to the children and their father, they insisted we proceed anyway.

When we arrived for the tour, the “manager of the weekend” emerged from the office. She introduced herself and began the tour without the traditional “fact finding” interview to discover the prospect’s medical needs. It was undoubtedly the worst tour I ever witnessed. We were marched up and down the hallways of the community and given a “here’s a room, here’s the dining room, here’s the reception area,” in the most monotonous tone of voice, with absolutely no explanation of what the home had to offer. I watched the expressions on my clients’ faces and they looked extremely upset. When I attempted to break in and ask questions and point things out on the tour, the “manager” proceeded to give me dirty looks. Frankly, I was flabbergasted at the lack of enthusiasm and the lousy job she did.

At the end of the tour, which lasted all of 20 minutes, we sat down in the office. She asked if we had any questions. I said, “Yes, I do. What is your position here?” She replied, “I’m the human resources manager.”

I sat down with my clients outside in the fresh air. The daughter was near tears and said that it was hard enough that they even had to place their mother in a home. But, the bad tour made everything more depressing. I insisted that plans for the next tour be conducted on a confirmed appointment when the admissions person was there. They agreed and made plans to tour on a week day with the expert.

The story ended happily with their mother being placed in the second community after an enthusiastic tour by the admissions director and a meeting with the full staff who would be in charge of her care. Phew–what a relief after the challenging start.

The moral of the story is as follows. I’ve been through this process so many times that I’ll save you time, expense, and stress of visiting communities in the appropriate way. Together, we’ll find the best possible solution.