The secret to success sits in dining services

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

Like many of you, between the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care conference in Chicago and the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living annual meeting in Washington, I have been listening to a lot of people talk over the last week. They have discussed everything from rehospitalizations to regulations to market analysis in seniors housing.

Most of these presentations and conversations are interesting, but by the end of the day Tuesday, it took a lot to break through the clutter in my brain. That moment happened when Kyle Henderson, principal in asset management at Capitol Seniors Housing, made a slightly throw-away comment in a session titled, “Approaching a Fork in the Road: Determining What Financial Structure Works for You.” Panelists were discussing how facilities could differentiate themselves, and Henderson brought up dining.

“You have some facilities that are investing in chefs, paying them $70-, $80-, $90,000,” he said. “That's where we are seeing innovation in programming, because dining gives them a chance to impress three times a day.”

The reason that resonated was because of something I've noticed in managing the On the Move section of McKnight's Long-Term Care News. Increasingly, I receive announcements of chefs coming to seniors housing facilities with decades of experience, such as Sodexo's Nori Yamashita; executive chefs with top-end restaurant experience, such as Anthony Falco or Gabriel Lagunas; or reality celebrities such as Brad Miller, a contestant on “Top Chef,” a consultant for Five Star Quality Care.

Furthermore, in a guest blog yesterday by Tom Boyes, the vice president of Sustainable Clinical Quality at Altercare of Ohio pointed out that Altercare of Louisville, a new AHCA Gold Award winner, used QAPI to reduce pressure ulcers. When the team dug down, frontline staff was able to discuss how residents having their meals in a dining room had better nutrition and hydration, and activity and mobility. This led to fewer residents unintentionally losing weight, developing urinary tract infections and getting pressure ulcers. The facility also was able to recognize how some residents with dementia related to food.

“Stocking and offering preferred foods, which may deviate from our standard food offerings, has proven extremely effective in calming distressed residents,” he wrote.

While that may not work for everyone, think about the enormous improvement in quality and in antipsychotics reduction that could result from exploring this aspect of a resident's life. Think about how much we turn to food and drink in our lives in times of stress, from chocolate at a low point during the day to mainlining potato chips during a deadline. (If you turn to foods like bananas and tomatoes, you are a better person than I am.)

Facilities have a lot of people to feed, and it's tough to manage everyone's needs. I remember one resident at a long-term care center discussing with me that, while he wanted to eat in the dining room, it took so long for everyone to be served that he became uncomfortable sitting in a dining chair, and increasingly ended up eating in his room where he was more comfortable.

I doubt this is unique, and that good, progressive facilities have found solutions to this problem and other challenges around dining. Sometimes it starts, as Altercare did, by involving frontline staff. Dining services — and the people who work in dining services — in my opinion, tend to be undervalued. But by considering investments in top-brand chefs, involving employees and making food a priority, even the smallest center may be able to make a name for itself.


Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.