A senior living overhaul hits some growing pains

By 
Kelsey Nash, Digital Editor

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A large-scale renovation is bound to strike some obstacles along the way. Here are a few encountered by Bethany, a senior-living center in Waupaca, Wis., as it revamped its entire foodservice program, a project that wrapped up at the end of 2017.

A continuing culture shift

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“The change in the people was the biggest challenge,” says Josh Eggeman, dining management consultant at Bethany, noting that he had to weed out “toxic people” on staff and replace them with positive folks who brought a caring mindset and positive outlook to the job. “I didn’t care if they had never cooked before, or they had never served,” he says, adding that those foodservice fundamentals are teachable skills.

“If someone negative even gets through the interview process and hired, the staff will run them out of here, you know what I mean?” he says. “They love coming to work. They’re happy. They don’t want that.”

Still, getting the team to its current state wasn’t always smooth sailing. A culture issue was part of the reason Eggeman joined Bethany in 2011, a time when it was “very difficult to get people on board [with the culture].” Surveys and meetings were mainstays throughout the renovation to involve staff with decision-making and help them feel some ownership over the process. And when an employee struggled with a change, managers would check in with them more often to provide extra support. 

The framework for transparency was set early, even before a new team member’s first day. The department was upfront about its hospitality focus while hiring, Eggeman says, and let applicants know that the operation was in the midst of some big changes.

That openness and collaboration now continues long after employees are onboarded. “We’re very hands on—all the managers work the floor, get in there, work alongside [staff],” he says. “I think they have a lot respect for us because we do that.”

Scheduling snafus

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Eggeman says he learned a valuable lesson as the first of the renovation’s three phases came to a close. After promoting the September 2016 debut of Bethany’s fast casual, Bleu Barn, construction delays pushed things back by a month or so. “I was really banking on that turnover date that they had on the schedule,” Eggeman says. “We had coordinated staffing and staff training, and I think we had letters to [residents’] families … advertising that it was opening back up, and it wasn’t ready and some equipment wasn’t here.”

When he found out the opening would be delayed, he went into action, letting Bethany’s director know, moving workers’ shifts around, pushing back scheduled trainings and sharing info at respective meetings for staff and residents’ families.

Afterwards, he says he made sure to add some cushion to contractors’ time projections, and was intentionally vague about timing when promoting the debut of new concepts, both internally and externally.

Room service hits a roadblock

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When Bethany’s new skilled nursing building opened last June, the foodservice team planned to provide hotel-style room service on the facility’s short-term rehab floor. However, its foray into room service was rather short term as well. 

Director of Food and Beverage Mary Schumacher says she didn’t realize how serious recovery would be for some of those residents or how under the weather they would be. Many rehab residents weren’t well enough to place food orders themselves, and team members who served as food runners ended up going room to room to take requests.  

The program “never took off as it was planned,” Eggeman says.

Fortunately, as a backup, that floor had been outfitted with a neighborhood kitchen during the renovation, from which the team could serve a daily menu. So, after speaking with foodservice workers and nursing staff on the rehab floor, they decided to scrap the room service program just a month after it began.

It required some staffing adjustments, but overall, the switch to a more traditional service was better for everyone, Eggeman says.

As a side benefit, serving those residents in a central area has given them a new forum for socialization. “It’s really good for them to get out, chat with people and just get out of their rooms,” he says, adding that “things have been great since.”

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