Article contributed by Trish Spellman, Managing Director at Cura Hospitality
In the healthcare and senior living industries, COVID-19 has presented many challenges, including a corresponding impact on an essential need for patient and resident care: food service. The challenges of the pandemic shifted traditional dining operations and forced providers to develop innovative and creative solutions to keep patients, residents, and team members safe.
As the Managing Director at Cura Hospitality, with nearly three decades of experience in contract managed services operations, I feel safe to say we’ve entered a new era of dining services. As such, it’s important to understand the opportunities and challenges for healthcare organizations in Life Plan communities and Acute Care Hospitals during these extraordinary times. Team members have more to prioritize than ever before in terms of resident and patient experience. Outsourcing your dining services to a foodservice partner can help you find solutions that meet your budget, quality, and nutrition requirements, and meaningfully enhance your patients’ and residents’ experience. Do your due diligence and ask your food service provider how they’re navigating the ecosystem and how they can help meet your organization’s needs.
Combating Isolation & Promoting Resident Satisfaction
One of the biggest shifts within the industry has been redefining the operation model to meet isolation and social distancing guidelines. As a result of being cut off from physical contact with family and friends, senior living residents were understandably emotionally devastated, and these impacts bled over to affect their dining experiences as well. Communal dining, socializing and enjoying a meal with company play an important role in the dining environment. During the pandemic, this has challenged the food and hospitality industries to find creative approaches to nourish and engage with their residents.
As a solution, foodservice providers can incorporate signature programs and devise innovative protocols to keep residents safe, without forsaking the human connection. Together, by working with residents and activity partners, you can identify what programs can address your needs. Select dining program options can include meal delivery services or opening an additional venue for communal dining while remaining compliant with industry regulations and local, state, and federal health guidance.
A few examples include maximizing the use of the facility with creative approaches such as a flexible dining room for a multi-purpose space such as chapel or theater, maximizing outdoor spaces for al fresco dining, adapting existing spaces to new serving styles from formal setting to self-serve, or in-room dining to mimic the room-service experience.
Labor Shortage & Optimizing Grab-and-Go Options
With many continuing to face a labor shortage, foodservice providers have adopted grab-and-go stations to minimize contact points for staff and guests. Snack stations can be directly accessible to them while complying with local and federal guidelines, but this can vary based on the level of assistance residents and patients may require. If needed, having one or two team members standing by can help assist with the process and customize meals while minimizing the risk of cross-contamination.
While more people are vaccinated these days, many may still prefer the contact-free environment the grab-and-go option offers. Moreover, the grab-and-go station eliminates the need for staff to monitor these items, freeing them to focus on other areas of the business.
The Future of Foodservice
No matter how the industry continues to evolve, providing healthy nutritional options will continue to be imperative in meeting patients’ and residents’ needs. The State of Senior Hunger in America reports the prevalence of senior hunger and lack of access to nutritious food for seniors and older adults. Working with your foodservice provider can help you understand seniors’ unique needs, characteristics, and risk factors.
As we come out of the pandemic, I predict that we’ll see more innovative programs and creative approaches to improving dining experiences. Today’s seniors are savvy, connected, and live full lives. Residents in the upcoming generation will be healthier, more active, better traveled, and more specific about their diet and food preferences than generations before them, seeking for more curated experiences instead of traditional options. These high expectations of older adults will drive sweeping changes in the senior living industry.
This trend toward healthier and innovative dining programs is both welcome and challenging. Currently, our industry is putting a laser focus on providing quality food that’s seasonal to ensure freshness and variety, as well as diversity to meet multicultural preferences. Working with their community to access locally-sourced food that’s seasonal, fresh, farm-to-table quality can provide a high-end feel in menu selection and presentation.
Finding the right foodservice dining partner will be essential to the growth and long-term health of your organization. Do your due diligence and meet with foodservice company directors to see if there’s synergy between your teams’ mission and values. The right food service provider will make people their priority, focus on providing a high-quality dining experience, and work with you to promote community engagement amongst residents, provide a sense of purpose, and help create a place to thrive. The better we understand your organization’s needs, the better we can work to create a seamless experience for your patients, residents, and guests.
Trish Spellman is the Managing Director at Cura Hospitality. She is a seasoned leader with nearly 30 years of experience in contract managed services operations working for leading organizations in the U.S. and internationally. Throughout her career, Trish has demonstrated her ability to drive organizational and financial results through disciplined execution, process improvement, quality and customer focus, while developing talent. She has a proven track record of building performance-based relationships with clients and leading transformational change.