Culture Change Now-Seek talents within your staff

I was conducting a Kind Dining training session recently for a group of employees in a nursing home when a young charge nurse spoke up. I had just handed her a plate so we could go over the proper way to serve food in a dining room.

I was a waitress in a dinner house restaurant for several years to put myself through college, she said. I have never, not once, thought to interject the serving skills I learned there into our dining room service.

My first thought was to offer kudos to the management for hiring someone with hospitality skills. My second thought was how those same managers had missed a glaring opportunity by never asking the nurse to put her restaurant skills to good use, or making any effort to discover she had those skills.

More than ever, providers need to shore up service skills and promote hospitality. And yet, in this nurses day-to-day routine it had never occurred to her that the service skills she had honed and mastered at a restaurant applied to her job serving seniors. That speaks volumes about the environment where she works and the priorities that are stressed by management.

To this community's credit, it was reaching out for some help in this area. The training exercise we did that day reminded this nurse that she had valuable skills that she was not using. She admitted that assisting residents with meals feels like a task. Instead, it should be a pleasant, warm interaction where exemplary service demonstrates a kindness and respect.

Another young woman in the same training session volunteered that she was a graduate of a local culinary institute. She said she had become disenchanted with the restaurant business and switched careers, becoming a certified nurse aide instead.

Not one of her 20 co-workers knew she had previous experience studying food and dining. And she had never thought to offer her expertise to help improve service delivery in the community. Fortunately, the light has finally shone on these two women, both of whom are potential assets to the community. They simply need to be allowed to give their input and share their experiences.

The upcoming Quality Indicator Survey (QIS) process is designed to take a hard look at culture change in nursing home dining, nursing home quality improvement, assisted living quality, and will reflect how seniors are treated by staff members in all senior living communities. Recent surveys have already pin-pointed the most common deficiencies:

  • Lack of staff attentiveness
  • Inability of staff to start or carry on meaningful conversation
  • Disrespect for residents preferences
  • Low quality of food (commonly due to wrong temperatures)

The missing service elements can be addressed through better communication and training.And in some instances, it takes formal training sessions to uncover the fact that staff members are equipped with more hospitality skills than they think they have. Consider this quote as you define your own culture change model.

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." - Marcel Proust

I will be speaking about the new QIS survey process in San Diego, California at the American Dietetics Association Food and Nutrition Conference taking place September 24-27, 2011.