Culture Change in Nursing Home Dining begins with Vision

Culture change in senior living communities begins with a vision. No matter how complicated the process may be, no matter how many obstacles must be overcome, maintaining the tenacity to see it through – without compromise – is the most difficult part. That’s why I am so impressed with the results at Villa Crest Nursing and Retirement Center in Manchester, N.H.

Led by an administrator with forward-thinking vision, Sarah McEvoy and her Partners (Staff), took a comfortable but antiquated procedural dining system and turned it upside down. In its place, CHOICES restaurant emerged – delivering convenience, better options and a friendlier environment to residents.

Resident, Guest and Partner satisfaction scores have risen as a result – tangible evidence that says all stakeholders appreciate the commitment to make mealtimes better. Taking on such a profound overhaul requires working through two common barriers in communities, fear of change and the risk of failure. But McEvoy and her staff persevered.

The mindset that change to the dining room is too difficult will be forced out when the new Quality Indicator Survey QIS process is rolled out nationwide. The dining experience makes a significant impact on residents’ quality of life and is now taking center stage. Educating staff on their value to the company while tackling this change will reduce the failure rate.

Creating and communicating a clear common goal among staff, (Villa Crest’s was to increase customer food service satisfaction score to 9.0 or better on a 10 point scale), and executing a plan designed with input from everyone sets a unified direction.

Keeping residents’ needs and expectations first throughout the transformation often requires new skill development of staff. At Villa Crest, when some residents were confused or upset by the change in their routine, the staff responded with patience and upped the ante by providing better service. Servers, who hail from all departments to serve or host at CHOICES, learned the names of every resident and took the time to welcome and introduce each person at every table.

There was also some risk involved. In the midst of the change, there was fear that Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) surveyors might react negatively. Villa Crest didn’t waver. Instead, McEvoy and other leaders forged ahead and met almost no resistance. In fact, DHHS referred three other centers in New Hampshire to call and inquire about Villa Crest’s new program.

In addition to creating a better framework for delivering food, Villa Crest invested in Kind Dining® training. I flew out personally to conduct a three-day workshop for a committed core group of 14 partners. We discussed the importance of hospitality and how much it can affect the experience of sitting down to a meal.

I am proud to say that Villa Crest applied the principles of Kind Dining training into their new format. Two Partners became Certified Kind Dining® Trainers who spearhead Villa Crest’s on-going service improvement program and CHOICES has been a big hit since it began in April of 2010. McEvoy and her staff have been perfecting it day by day ever since, exceeding their satisfaction goals.

Villa Crest laid out a vision of what it wanted to offer, solved every problem that arose, worked together as a team, and reached its goal. Not only are residents’ satisfaction scores higher, but staff are more satisfied in their jobs.

Improved quality – of the food and the service – has led to a 55 percent increase in guest meals. That measurement of success is making a difference with the company’s bottom line. It all began with a strong leader and a clear vision of what residents’ meal-time experience should be – raising service standards to support it, building staff confidence with new skills and a new voice and displaying the faith and fortitude to make it happen..