Nina Dubman: Change Maker

Positive labor impact: Staff retention is about 98%, with only one opening in the past three years, she reports. "Without turnover, my staff is well-trained and can learn how to make good food from scratch using quality ingredients."

In reality, bringing all of Dubman's 12 employees—including full- and part-timers—up to speed in the shift to new menus and recipes has taken a lot of time, patience and numerous food production meetings.

"Throughout the whole four-week cycle—previously we ran a five-week cycle—we met for a few minutes every day to explain the recipes," she recalls. "The most difficult part was teaching them to measure ingredients using the metric system. Now, they're used to it and understand it. It's all part of my being visible and readily accessible. You're there to in-service—and you can't in-service your employees enough."

Dubman attributes the lack of turnover to listening to employees both during scheduled meetings and on a regular, day-to-day basis. "If they have issues, they're not leaving because we discuss them and try to solve any problems. They know I'll help them and make their job easier," she says.

Dubman's philosophy of being visible and available is much the same when applied to residents.

"Complaints—and I get very few food-related complaints—decrease if you're visible," she asserts. "We have some people who are visually handicapped and they'll sometimes complain they did not get what they wanted until you point it out to them. There are other residents you'll never satisfy because they don't want to be here anyway. But you keep on trying to make them feel they're part of the facility."

Increasing choices: In the restaurant-style dining room, complete with uniformed waiter and waitress service, the menu items of the day are verbally presented. Previously, there was one item plus an alternate based on food preferences. Now, there's a main entree, an alternate and four substitutions for a total of six choices. Alternate selections generally need only easy prep and include such fare as hamburgers, grilled cheese, cottage cheese and fruit.

When Dubman first arrived at Resthaven, she introduced the Meal of the Month concept, a true resident pleaser. "Members of the Residents' Council Food Committee write the menu which is usually served at dinner as a special," she explains. "It might be chicken fingers, fried shrimp or perhaps short ribs, along with various sides and homemade muffins. Committee members meet once a month which lets residents feel they have a say. We try to listen to them since this is their home."

As residents enjoy their new menus—such as oven fried chicken with vegetable and potato, or Southern-style barbequed chicken breast with cornbread; broccoli, tomato/mozzarella salad; and homemade strawberry brownies—a certified nursing assistant (CNA) circulates in the dining room and is responsible for checking the plate of each resident following each meal. If someone isn't eating well, it's reported to Dubman and a three-day calorie count is conducted.

Fond memories: Dubman has a particularly warm place in her heart for these CNAs since she fondly remembers her first job as a CNA when she was a high school student and worked with the elderly. At that point, she decided to become a nurse, but a part-time job in campus foodservice (while working her way though college) proved so enjoyable, she switched her major to foodservice management and dietetics—and never looked back.

Most recently, Dubman has been on a tireless campaign to revitalize the Chicago Midwest chapter of the American Society of Healthcare Foodservice Administrators (ASHFSA) in order to help her healthcare cohorts remain at the top of their professional form. As a board member for the past eight years and Chicago chapter chairperson since 2000, she's taken the lead in rebuilding the membership (it's now at 60), phoning people to come to meetings and convincing suppliers to underwrite the appearance of key speakers.

This year, Dubman received ASHFSA's 2004 Chapter Leadership Award for dedicated service to the revitalization of the Chicago Chapter.

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