Passion project

What I've learned about people in the industry.

In my two-plus years covering the non-commercial foodservice industry, I’ve learned a lot. But one of the great things I’ve learned is that the people who work in this field are, by and large, passionate people who love to share what they are doing to help others.

In my two-plus years covering the non-commercial foodservice industry, I’ve learned a lot. But one of the great things I’ve learned is that the people who work in this field are, by and large, passionate people who love to share what they are doing to help others.

Howard Rosenberg, executive director of food service at the 320-bed Sea Crest Health Care Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., is a great example of this. A couple of months ago, Howard invited me to tour his facility, which is one block away from the famed Coney Island Boardwalk.

I’m no stranger to nursing homes—my grandfather lived in one for seven years—but at Howard’s facility food is no longer an exercise in patience for both the residents and staff. At many nursing homes, my grandfather’s included, there are a handful of nurses who are trying to assist the entire dining room. After his stroke, my grandfather was one of the residents who needed help opening containers and cutting meat. When a family member was not there to assist, he had to wait for the nurses to make their way to his table to help him. Often, that meant that his food was cold and he no longer wanted to eat.

Howard saw this happening at his facility and made a change. In 2007, at his old location, Sans Souci Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Yonkers, N.Y., Howard implemented a new program called Independent Tray Service. The idea is simple: give residents packaging that they can open. All beverages are served in pre-portioned cups with a slot for a straw. Condiments are in pre-portioned soufflé cups. Bread is packaged in plastic bags with fold-over seals. When Howard moved to Sea Crest, he brought the program with him.

Howard says the change in mood in the dining room has been dramatic. He says residents can now enjoy their food without waiting for assistance. To demonstrate his point, Howard took me to meet a resident named Lee. Lee is 40 with cerebral palsy, which makes it virtually impossible for her to open up containers and packaging.

“Lee is very independent,” Howard says. “She won’t let the nurses help her with anything. You’ll see her in her wheelchair coming down the hall and she won’t let anyone push the wheelchair for her. But she couldn’t be independent at mealtimes and that bothered her.”

“It’s easier to do thing on my own,” Lee told me about the change since implementation of Independent Tray Service. “I don’t have to wait on the nurses to figure out that I need help.”

That story lights up Howard’s face. It’s not the first time he’s heard it, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time either. But you get the feeling watching Howard that it’s moments like these that are the reason he does what he does.

To learn more about the Independent Tray Service, watch a video here.

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