Senior Living Q&A with David E. Henke, Kevin Finnegan, and Tonya Hendricks

Senior Living Q&A with David E. Henke, Franciscan–University Place executive director; Kevin Finnegan, Unidine general manager of dining services; and Tonya Hendricks, Unidine district manager for Franciscan–University Place, West Lafayette, Ind.

There can be benefits for a senior living community that is affiliated with a major university.

University-Place-1The residents at University Place expect variety, so food offerings range from ethnic fare to comfort foods and healthier options.Franciscan–University Place in West Lafayette, Ind., is able to hold cooking classes taught by one of its residents, a 105-year-old retired professor of culinary arts from nearby Purdue University. The community is also home to a former Purdue pharmacy professor who invented time-release coatings for medicine.

“We have current Purdue students here working in dietary services, culinary arts, science, nursing and pharmacy majors,” says David E. Henke, executive director of Franciscan–University Place. “Students are studying the effects of food on the brain in dementia patients and the impact of carbohydrates on seniors.”

The 13-year-old property includes 108 independent living residences ranging from 900 to 2,000 square feet, 48 assisted living apartments and 30 healthcare rehabilitation beds. The average age of its residents is 87.

There are a number of options at mealtime, including a bistro, main dining room that seats 70, secondary dining area with 20 seats and club room for cocktails. The assisted living main dining room seats 44 and includes an attached open space with a fireplace and television. The healthcare dining area seats 30, and there is a separate area for residents that need more assistance and privacy.

Despite the advanced ages of the residents, when it comes to food, expectations are high.

“We are considered a high-end property,” says Henke. “Residents expect significant culinary skill, as most are well traveled and health aware.”

University-Place-2Food presentation is a big part of University Place's program, which designates a club room for appetizers and cocktails.FE&S spoke with Henke; Kevin Finnegan, Unidine general manager of dining services; and Tonya Hendricks, Unidine district manager, to learn more about Franciscan–University Place’s foodservice program.

FE&S: The senior living foodservice segment is diverse. How do you adapt your foodservice program to the different needs of your residents?

DH: Our independent living community includes a broad menu with daily specials. The assisted living menu also has a varied selection, but because licensed healthcare operations also require physician-monitored food items, the flavors may be adjusted to compensate for the effect of medication on taste buds. Our healthcare community residents include stroke victims and other compromised patients. Unidine’s Puree with a Purpose program provides the same quality food molded to look like food in its original form. It allows patients to dine with dignity. Food appearance is important because it triggers a hunger response, unlike puree scooped in a dish.

We also focus on hydration as an important aspect to senior living health. We’ve incorporated hydration stations into our communities, which are attractive glass dispensers that feature water infused with interesting combinations like pineapple and sage, watermelon and berry, and orange and fennel. Flavors change daily and often incorporate herbs from our on-site garden. It’s surprising how the volume of water has significantly increased with this program. Residents are drawn to these stations for the betterment of their medical conditions and overall health.

FE&S: Does this demographic prefer more traditional fare, or are residents adventurous and willing to try something different?  

University-Place-3Restaurant-style dining and service is available at a majority of senior living communities, including University Place.DH: While our residents enjoy traditional dishes, they also appreciate and expect menu variety. Our Dining Council provides feedback on the menu and ideas for specialty foods. This summer, for example, we showcased Route 66 and offered weekly theme meals highlighting foods from cities found on Route 66. A few of the specials that have become menu staples include linguini with clam sauce, mushroom Swiss burgers, liver and onions, Thai chicken salad and salmon burgers. We also change our salad offerings daily.

FE&S: Rather than prepared, canned and frozen food, Franciscan–University Place stocks fresh foods that are used within a few days. Describe your meal plan and menu.

TH: Food is prepared from scratch, so our four-week seasonal menu cycle is always changing based on what’s in season. There are between 10 and 12 staple items, plus a chef’s selection that changes daily. Therapeutic diets are separate from the general meal plan, but also provide seasonal variety. We like to collaborate with different departments and pair our activities and dining room decor with our menus. 

FE&S: How does the back of house support the menu?

KF: We have a 4,000-square-foot central kitchen that prepares food for two auxiliary kitchens. This includes hot and cold lines with a work space in the middle and a dish room. We have grills, an eight-burner flattop and convection ovens on one wall, with one upright refrigerator and one upright freezer nearby. The salad station is on the front line and includes a prep table, large mixers, meat slicers and a freezer. The other side of the kitchen is for storage and where plates enter the service line. Plate storage and dry storage for ingredients and snacks are in the back. We also bake in-house.

University-Place-4University Place's foodservice program caters to the growing number of its residents looking for healthy meal options.DH: Our 500-square-foot satellite kitchens in our assisted living communities have steam tables, reach-in refrigerators and induction burners for cooking on demand. About 60 percent of these residents have dementia, so they typically shy away from set menus. Instead, we have plate visuals, which are easier to navigate and allow for better variety and healthier choices. The steam tables are situated in the middle of the dining center to immediately heat plates and keep temperatures consistent.

FE&S: With a large community and varying menus, what are the most important aspects you look for in foodservice equipment?

TH: Our equipment, from beginning to end, is used heavily, so efficiency is key. We typically customize units to meet our needs, since we’re in a niche segment. As our foodservice programs continue evolving, new equipment purchases will be more aligned with specialty cooking.

FE&S: Have you incorporated technology to help increase efficiency in your operation?

DH: We’ve increased our ordering efficiency by incorporating hand-held point-of-sale order systems. Servers can place orders remotely from the dining room, which has increased efficiency and saves labor. These systems also provide us with the ability to monitor orders and see what sells best, which helps when refining our menus.

FE&S: Do you have a process in place to ensure residents’ needs are met?

University-Place-5University Place has a central kitchen that prepared food for two auxiliary kitchens.DH: In addition to our Dining Council, we also have a general resident council with nine members and a steering committee for residents that meets three times a month for feedback. In response to requests, we recently held a cookout with a 17-piece swing band. We’ve also held ice cream socials to introduce our newest flavors and invited guests from outside the community. Our healthcare residents routinely have visitors during mealtimes, and visitors can also take advantage of our hydration and snack stations.

FE&S: What is your operation focusing on moving forward?

TH: In recent conversations with our dining services team and dieticians, it has been interesting to see how health conscious this population is. Requests for gluten-free alternatives and other specialty items that weren’t mainstream five to 10 years ago have become more popular, along with healthier foods.