Coping with Staffing Shortages in Long-Term Care Foodservice
What in the World is Happening?
In foodservice tough situations can escalate rather quickly for a variety of reasons. The goal in every kitchen is to control as much as possible when it comes to food safety, food cost, and food quality. Yet ensuring these things are under control can become increasingly difficult before the day even begins. Staff call offs, equipment failures, and food availability can change plans dramatically. However, amid difficulty we have the option of being a victim to our circumstances or owning future outcomes by taking proactive measures. That’s not a new thought, but how we achieve that in food service might require a new approach.
Many foodservice departments in healthcare properties and facilities are chronically short staffed. This has persisted since the beginning of the pandemic. Rising minimum wages, airborne illnesses, lack of available funding, and early retirements are leaving foodservice departments in a bind.
In December, Reuters reported there were eleven million job vacancies at the end of October 2021, and “the surge was led by the accommodation and food services industry, where vacancies increased by 254,000 jobs.” You can read that report here, (https://www.reuters.com/business/us-job-openings-jump-11-million-october-2021-12-08/). In September of 2021 the AHCA and NCAL conducted a survey ( https://www.ahcancal.org/News-and-Communications/Fact-Sheets/FactSheets/Workforce-Survey-September2021.pdf ) revealing that from June to September 86% of nursing homes and 77% of assisted living providers said their workforce situations had worsened. The most alarming figure is that 99% of the nursing homes surveyed and 96% of the assisted living providers surveyed admitted they were facing a staffing shortage. It’s not hyperbole to use the term “crisis” given that 78% of nursing homes and 61% of assisted living communities are concerned workforce challenges might force them to close.
The food service departments of long-term care (LTC) providers are at the intersection of a troubled foodservice industry and the healthcare staffing crisis. Every food service administrator we’ve spoken to over the last month has echoed the challenge of ensuring appropriate staff levels. A smaller, more focused survey (https://www.foodservicedirector.com/operations/state-healthcare-foodservice-full-2021-survey-results )(at www.foodservicedirector.com) reveals 80% of the respondents said, “staffing shortages and employee illness have been a challenge during the pandemic.” Additionally, the current economic climate has made it difficult for many providers to bring on new help. Foodservice departments must compete with wage increases offered by other employers. This is especially difficult when LTC providers are forced to respond by limiting the number of residents they can receive.
How are Others Responding?
Responses to the current staffing crisis have varied. Nearly every institution is asking people to work overtime or extra shifts according to the AHCA and NCAL survey findings. Some are beginning to seek the help of staffing agencies, and other organizations are now forced to limit the number of new admissions. However, limiting admissions cannot be a long term solution to dealing with the ongoing staffing crisis. Here’s a list of how other foodservice departments are responding.
1. Benchmarking your process: Gordon Food Service (GFS) has a fantastic article (https://www.gfs.com/en-us/ideas/benchmarking-maximize-productivity) on benchmarking your process and benchmarking your food service with the industry by using data from the Association of Nutrition Foodservice Professionals (ANFP) and the Association for Healthcare Foodservice (AHF). The point of doing this according to GFS is to give you a place to begin “improving productivity with the manpower that you have.” You can read the article with ANFP and AHF links here (https://www.gfs.com/en-us/ideas/benchmarking-maximize-productivity). GFS.com has also posted an article on recruitment and retention that is worth reviewing at https://www.gfs.com/en-us/ideas/navigating-todays-healthcare-labor-environment.
2. Ready-to-Eat Foods: According to an article posted on Nation’s Restaurant News, (https://www.nrn.com/operations/foodservice-operators-expect-labor-and-product-shortages-continue) “some of the tactics have included reducing the number of made-to-order options on the menu and cutting down on the number of ingredients required for meals.” Additionally, the publication notes that many providers in the healthcare segment are rolling out “ready-to-eat-foods”
3. Making Food Portable: The idea of making ready-to-eat food must be coupled with the idea that food must be portable. Meal portability is the number one trend in healthcare right now, according to Foodservicedirector.com’s survey. You can read the full survey results here (https://www.foodservicedirector.com/operations/state-healthcare-foodservice-full-2021-survey-results).
4. Mobile Carts: According to the same survey by Foodservicedirector.com the primary way people have achieved making food more portable is through mobile food carts. Food carts have been implemented by 76% of the respondents to the survey. Food carts allow providers to make their current menu as portable as it needs to be without having to overhaul the menu. Additionally, this allows food to be maintained at a safe temperature even with limited staff.
These responses are the result of combining pandemic best practices and efficiency improvements to combat the current staffing crisis. There were many changes made during the COVID pandemic, and having to revert to previous methods can seem like a big task to some providers. However, JonesZylon can help you combine helpful new practices while accommodating low staffing levels.
One provider we spoke to in New Jersey, who was using an open cart meal delivery method, said that temperature loss was a chronic issue during meal delivery. After switching from an open cart delivery to one of JonesZylon’s heated/refrigerated (https://www.joneszylon.com/Products/Long-Term-Care-Products/ )carts their problem was resolved. Our heated and refrigerated meal delivery carts allow you to work with limited staff in two ways.
1. You can load the heated carts and refrigerated carts earlier and then plug them in. This allows you to work ahead and keep plated food hot or chilled for up to hours on end.
2. You can spread meal delivery out amongst other team members at your property. Many providers will fill their food carts with made-to-order food. Next, they’ll deliver the cart to the wing or hall they wish to serve, and then plug the cart back in. As caregivers prepare to enter the rooms, they can grab the made-to-order food and deliver it to the right person.
For more information on how to ensure you serve the right meal, with the right consistency, to the right resident, at the right temperature, at the right time, read this resource at www.joneszylon.com (https://www.joneszylon.com/Media/JonesZylon-Food-Service-For-Longer-Term-Care-Facility.pdf). You can also watch this video about our MealPro carts (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NS2x9d98W8&t=208s )to see the process of using heated and refrigerated meal carts to manage meal delivery during staffing shortages. JonesZylon’s carts can help make your food service more portable while allowing you to control food costs, keep service sanitary, and alleviate staffing difficulties by spreading the workload. Our heated and refrigerated meal delivery carts are a great way to remain proactive and take control of your circumstances.
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