From the Front Lines is a Q&A series from Senior Housing News. Our aim is to get out of the C-suite from time to time to focus on some of the interesting and dynamic people who work at the forefront of the senior living industry. Have a colleague who does something cool and works in a senior living community? Drop us a line.
Though it’s usually a routine exercise for senior living providers, move-in day can be a stressful and overwhelming experience for their residents.
That’s why Splendido at Rancho Vistoso—a Mather LifeWays life plan community with 196 apartment-style homes, 50 villas and 47 more villas under development in Tucson, Arizona—has Marisela Panzarella. As move-in coordinator and interior designer, she helps new residents customize and settle into their home, whether they’re moving into the community for the first time or transitioning to a higher level of care.
Panzarella also doubles as every new resident’s “oldest adult daughter,” meaning she’s the one calling the movers, deciding where a resident’s furniture will go, making sure the the cable is set up and handling all of the other little snags associated with moving day. To Splendido’s residents, she’s a trusted confidant, counselor, cheerleader and at times even a best friend.
Senior Housing News connected with Panzarella to talk about her day-to-day duties and how she embraces her multifaceted role.
SHN: Describe Splendido at Rancho Vistoso.
Panzarella: Splendido is a retirement community for people ages 55 and better. We have been in business in Tucson for 12 years. We are run in the Mather Lifeways model, and we are partly owned by the Plaza Companies out of Phoenix, Arizona.
The overall community is like a cruise ship on land. We have 50 villas, which are like little townhouses. For those folks who are not quite ready to be part of a community living situation, they go for the villas.
What are your responsibilities? What’s a normal day or month like for you?
Typically, in a month we may do five move-ins. Sometimes, we’ll do two move ins in one day. Right now, we’re averaging one a week. It’s never a dull moment in here, and I love it that way. I like working in a fast-paced environment, and this keeps me on my toes.
My normal responsibilities are to work with the folks that are moving into our community. I work with them once they have decided to make Splendido their home. I take care of all the logistics of the move, such as going to their house and interviewing them to see what they’re planning to bring to the community. I measure their furniture. I talk to them about who’s going to be their moving company.
They know exactly where their belongings are going to go, what’s still coming and what’s going to be donated. I am part of their life for the next 60 to 90 days. If they’re going to make any design improvements, I help them with that, from selection of tile and carpet to paint colors.
The day they move in, we try to make it as special as possible. I roll out the red carpet for them, put fresh flowers in their home, lay out an amenity tray with snacks and drinks. I bring lunch to their house. A lot of them are very hands-on, others just let me do the whole thing on my own. I become their adult daughter, pretty much, and I’m able to provide them with attention. They’re special to us, so I want to be there for them at all times.
What does it mean to be their “adult daughter?”
You take care of everything for them. You find out a lot of things about them, like their personalities, what they like and what they don’t like. There’s a lot of anxiety about taking the step of leaving their house. In some instances, these folks have not moved in many, many years.
So, I’m their counselor. I’m their best friend. I’m the one who cheers them on. I try to be as positive as possible for them. I try to find the things they like and operate on that. If they’re going to be concerned about the house, I say, “the color you selected is going to be wonderful. We’re going to do this as easily as possible.” I hold their hand.
There are times where there is conflict between the spouses, like one is really afraid to move in while the other is eager. I listen. I’m there for them. I make sure they understand they’re not alone, and that I will take care of everything possible so they don’t feel like they’re doing it by themselves. Just giving them a space plan [which details where their belongings will go] is such a sense of relief for them. It’s like you take a weight off their shoulders.
What are new residents most worried about when they move in?
I would say 99% of the time, they’re worried whether their furniture is going to fit into the space. They’re worried about leaving things behind. What I try to tell them is, this is the best gift you can give yourself and your children, because you’re choosing your future. The gutters, you won’t have to worry about that. Swimming pool, leak in the garage, whatever. You don’t have to worry about it at Splendido.
Do residents ever ask for things you can’t provide? How do you deal with that?
We really try to accomodate our residents as much as possible within safety limits. I’ve had folks who want to bring everything. Knowing a lot about space planning, and knowing the community well, I already know what’s going to fit. Sometimes, it’s hard to convince them certain things can’t come.
I met with a couple where one really wanted to bring her formal living room furniture, and the other wanted to bring his comfy couch. I said, that’s something you’ll have to decide yourselves. A couple days later, I got a phone call from the wife that they’re going to bring the formal living room.
The day they moved in, we set up the living room with the formal sofas. And then a second truck shows up, and what comes out of the second truck but the comfy sofa. He asked, you’re going to make my sofa fit somewhere, right? I said, we’re going to turn your garage into a man cave, and so where are you going to donate your car? His eyes went wide. We got such a great laugh out of that one. Of course, in the end, the comfy sofa was donated.
But those are the things that come up. People don’t want to get rid of things they love. It really is about emotional attachment. That’s where I come in and do my counseling. I can talk to them.
You gather details about a new resident, like their favorite snacks or flowers, and use it to make their move-in day special. Are residents always eager to share those personal details?
They’re very good about sharing a lot of information. They usually tell me what they love and what they don’t like. They’re very much in control.
My job is to listen, more than anything. I buy flowers, or if I can sense they’re not flower people, I bring a plant. With snacks, we try to bring something healthy. Usually fruit and a bottle of water. Cheese and crackers. We also always have our signature chocolate chip cookies. The day they move in, we have a red carpet laid out, a big red bow on the door and fresh flowers inside.
I absolutely love our residents, and I have such a good rapport with them. I could tell you everyone that I moved in, I can tell you their home number, I can tell you what they have, I can remember the dimensions of their furniture.
What operational benefits do move-in coordinators bring Mather LifeWays?
I’m a really valuable member of the team because I can save a sale. If a residency advisor tells me, I’m not feeling this person, I can give them a call and just hold their hand and see what happens. I oftentimes say, let’s talk about the move, it’s going to be great, and I sincerely mean it. When I go see them, it’s not trying to lure them back, but more giving them a sense that you made the right choice.
We’ve had people who were ready to cancel, and just by knowing they have help and support, they were convinced to stay. I become their adult daughter. Their counselor. Their confidant. I know more about their lives more than most folks know because I’m with them a lot.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.
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Written by Tim Regan