Anne Osmer Reporting
When you think of dining options at a nursing home or long-term care facility, what comes to mind? Barring very high-end facilities with the high-end price tags that go along with them, many places serve basic, even bland, food in a simple setting.
Not so for at least two of Ciena Healthcare Management’s long-term care facilities in Michigan, where dining innovations are front and center for their food service directors.
Louise Williams runs the program at Americare Convalescent Center in Detroit, where she recently started a buffet-style dining program that has been mimicked by other Ciena facilities.
Tables are set with tablecloths and cloth napkins, and residents are greeted at the door when they arrive. Williams compares the new dining program to a Ponderosa, with an all-you-can-eat buffet and plenty of options.
Setting the food program for over 100 Americare residents can be a challenge, she said, but the response has been mostly positive.
“It’s really worked in our favor,” said Williams. “Many [residents] were cooped up in their room. Since the buffet has started they’re all coming down.”
Some of the benefits of Williams’ new food service program? Happier customers. “They love it,” said Williams. Americare is also seeing weight gain in some residents who needed it, and stabilized weight in others whose weight fluctuated too much.
Lori Dudley, dietary director at Ciena’s Fountain View facility in Monroe, has also seen good results from her efforts to bring changes to the dining program there. Similar to Americare, the setting is important: There are flowers on the table and nice tablecloths and napkins.
Service is restaurant-style, with drinks orders taken when residents first sit down, and food is brought to the table by a server. Pleasant music is piped in to enhance the restaurant feeling in the dining room.
With over 20 years in the food-service industry, Dudley was ready to take the reins and make changes when she started at Fountain View last March. She interviewed residents about their food likes and dislikes, and she paid attention to residents’ concerns at monthly food committee meetings.
She switched food supply vendors and held a first-ever “mini food show”, where residents got to taste all of the offerings and help choose final menus. Resident involvement is something Dudley prides herself on. “The residents are very involved in the menu-picking,” she said. “They’re very vocal. They tell me what they want.”
As a result, foods such as smoked sausage and sauerkraut, corned beef and potatoes, and grilled ham and cheese have been incorporated into the menu, reflecting the personal tastes and diversity of the residents.
Dudley also holds cook-outs for the residents, weather permitting, where the residents can enjoy the outdoors and watch their food being cooked on a grill.
Looking ahead, Dudley would like to feature an occasional buffet dining option, and she’s hoping to host food shows twice a year, in conjunction with the fall/winter and spring/summer menu changes.
Williams is also planning additional improvements to the dining program at Americare. She’d like to bring the nicer dining amenities to residents who aren’t able to feed themselves and can’t participate in the communal dining room. She said, “Even if they don’t know, I know.”
She’d also like to continue to expand on the food diversity offered at the facility, noting that people of Turkish, German, Australian and Bosnian descent are just a few of nationalities represented at Americare.
A day-ahead menu option is another innovation Williams might try, where residents receive menus a day in advance and select choices then. Resident input and choice rank high on Williams’ priorities. “I want to give them a base and let them pick what they want,” she said.
When asked why she went into food service as a career, Williams replied that she grew up working with food. “My mother was a cook here before she passed some years ago. I had a passion for it.”
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