Following her 15-year position as director of Food and Nutrition at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center in Pennsylvania, Mary Cooley, RD, turned her attention to senior care.
For 13 years she has helped shape and redefine dining services at Pennswood Village, a retirement community guided by Quaker values. Open since 1980 and sitting on 84 acres, the community is home to residents aged 65 years or older including 330 in independent living, 40 in personal care and 50 in skilled care. Cooley manages a $1.4 million food and supply budget and $558,000 in retail sales for employees, residents and guests. She directs a staff of 49 full-time employees and 34 part-time employees who are responsible for 30,000 transactions/covers a month for the residents and 40 staff in four dining rooms.
Q: How many of your four foodservice venues for residents remain open?
A: Prior to COVID-19, we provided service to two white tablecloth dining rooms and one healthcare dining room. We also operated the Village Café, a casual dining room whereresidents and staff could eat on premises or opt for takeout. Today, only the Village Café is available for independent living residents to access. All food is takeout. The three community dining rooms that served personal care and independent living residents and staff, along with the healthcare dining room for assisted living residents, are closed. All residents in the healthcare areas receive meal trays in their rooms. Staff meals are takeout only. We have converted one of the dining rooms to accommodate employee meal periods. If employees are unable to eat in their break room, there is socially distanced seating available in the dining room and on the patio.
Q: How has service changed to residents? Are you using more or all disposable plates, flatware and so forth?
A: All takeout service that is picked up by residents is packed in disposable containers. Tray service delivered to healthcare patients contains food served on china plates with regular stainless flatware and glassware. We also deliver takeout meals to apartments of residents who have decided to self-isolate or for various medical reasons are being quarantined. These meals are also packaged in disposable containers.
Q: Has the way your operation delivers food to residents changed?
A: Although the independent living residents are free to come to the community building, they are not permitted to leave the campus. If they do leave, they are quarantined for up to two weeks. Many residents see off-campus doctors and specialists for chronic conditions. So, for them, leaving campus is unavoidable. In response, we have added several delivery options for those in quarantine or those residents who choose to minimize their visits to the community building. We started a weekly fresh produce and protein sale. Residents can select a variety of fresh produce items, eggs, fresh meats and sliced deli meats and cheeses. They receive a weekly order sheet they can complete and return. They also have the option to order these items online through our community phone app. The orders are assembled and delivered to their apartments: produce on Tuesdays and proteins on Thursdays. We have initiated a call-in grocery service so residents may order additional grocery items like bread, milk and dairy items. These are delivered two times each week. Our marketing department takes the phone orders for groceries and passes them along to the Dining Services department. This also gives marketing a chance to check in with residents to see how they are doing.
Q: How has your menu changed to meet these unique circumstances?
A: We strive to follow our five-week cycle menu whenever possible. When products or ingredients are not available, we make appropriate substitutions.
Q: What equipment has proved valuable in this specific instance?
A: Mobile hot and cold carts have allowed us to set up alternate service sites for meal service. The hot-cold cart has been very effective in providing a hot meal that can be individually dished up for the residents in the healthcare areas. The carts have also been used for monotony breakers that have delighted the residents.
Q: Are you doing anything unique food-wise to lighten the mood for residents?
A: To keep the residents engaged and to cheer them up, we are using a mobile hot-cold service cart for meal service intermittently during the week and on holidays. We will serve a casual meal like pizza or mini sliders for lunch as a monotony breaker and provide a festive meal on holidays. For Memorial Day, the team planned a picnic on wheels with potato salad made in-house, baked beans and strawberry shortcake. The residents in healthcare looked out the windows and saw, and smelled, our crew grilling dogs and burgers on a terrace before we loaded them onto the mobile cart for service inside.
Q: Have you made any changes to the way you receive deliveries and prep food?
A: Prior to COVID-19, several of our vendors would deliver directly into the kitchen. Currently, all deliveries are received on the back dock, and all delivery personnel must go through the multipoint screening process, which consists of a temperature check and screening questions, before being allowed on campus.
Q: What is your labor situation?
A: The COVID-19-mandated in-room healthcare tray delivery model requires less labor than our formal table service in a dining room setting. The COVID-19 model of in-room healthcare tray delivery requires less labor. We did not furlough staff but instead repurposed them for grocery and meal deliveries to our ill residents. Hours of service have not been shortened, but we have been able to shorten the work day and consolidate staffing due to lower meal volumes and lack of visitors.