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BTG COVID-19 Ep. 22: Best Practices: Dining, Nutrition and Wellness with Erin Van Valkenburgh

BTG COVID-19 Ep. 22: Best Practices: Dining, Nutrition and Wellness with Erin Van Valkenburgh of Morrison Living.

This series is designed to provide resources, share the love stories and encourage those who are overseeing the care of aging adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. We believe in you!

Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas on our special series dedicated to COVID19 continuing to bring on the thought leaders in the industry to bring you up to date information about best practices and the love stories that can inspire you today in our new normal. We have an awesome guest on the program, so excited to have this conversation around nutrition and wellness. We have Erin Van Valkenburgh. She is a director of nutrition and wellness at Morrison Living. Welcome to the show.


Erin: Thank you. I appreciate it. I’m really happy to be here.


Lucas: We’re so happy that you are here because we’ve heard so much about you and you have dedicated your career over 30 years to health and nutrition and inspiring others. And now you’re in this role of being a director and you’re even mentoring people that are aspiring to get into this and you have a great track record and reputation. And so we want to come to you today so you can tell our listeners, what are you seeing happen now given the state of COVID19 and talk to us about some best practices and some changes on how you guys are repositioning your services?


Erin: Good question. You know, every day is a challenge. Every day is a new curve ball. Especially with nutrition and wellness. About five weeks ago, as we all know, our seniors who were eating and dining rooms, having a social life, enjoying themselves were relegated to their rooms and pretty quickly and overnight and this caused a complete disruption in their life as you can imagine on some of the communities went completely to disposables, which was also another issue, an issue that we had. So now we’ve taken the social part out of nutrition and we’ve had to adapt and adjust to how we were going to continue to provide nutrition and wellness to these seniors that were eating in their rooms. 


So our communities had to shift and decide what they were going to do and how they were going to do it as well as try and provide the nutrition that they could get into these residents. It’s been challenging to say the least. I think now after five weeks we’re kind of in a new normal and people have gotten patterns down from a nutrition perspective. Now, my biggest concern has been weight loss and getting folks to eat. It’s really difficult when you don’t have that socialization around for people to come and have a meal together. Sometimes their appetite will decline. Sometimes the food will show up cold, sometimes the food might not look appetizing in that plastic container. And so you wonder what, what do you do and how can you help them?


Communities have gotten super creative in delivery system, a lot of times we have gone to getting them a different setup. We’ve gone to better tray service, we’ve gone to adding flowers and cards and special things to give them a little bit of momentum and encouragement to eat. But we’ve also completely changed some of our menus and some of our menu items because even through this, a lot of them are not feeling very well. And so the foods that we’re even providing for them, they don’t want to eat. So it’s been an interesting time. 


Some of the best practices that I’ve seen is changing the menus to create more comfort foods. So it might not be something super special or that ribeye steak that they’re used to having, but maybe now it’s just meatloaf with gravy and mashed potatoes and green beans cause that’s comforting to them and that provides a normalcy to them. So those are just some of the few things that we’ve adapted and adjusted to.


Josh: So this is a great and very relevant conversation and so many of the things that you’re talking about we’ve got a very diverse listener group many that are in senior living every day in the communities, many at the corporate level, but then many outside families that are listening and people that are interested in getting into senior housing. So looking at it from more of the perspective of people that don’t understand the, the daily interaction and what all, what you were just talking about, how much goes into that, you guys monitoring more than just preparing food and delivering it. You’re monitoring a lot of things that you touched on. And when you start talking about nutrition and wellness and weight losses, there’s a lot of interaction and information that has to be provided or gathered about that resident to really understand their wellbeing and what nutrition they need to be able to adapt. Can you tell our listeners a little bit, some, some ways in which you’re working with your teams as well as maybe within the community, the other departments within a community like the wellness departments? And the activity departments to really make sure that the residents, health and wellbeing, but also their experience is a good experience through all of this.


Erin: Absolutely. So in, in senior living, especially in the, the highest level of care, right? Which would be the long term care facility. A lot of our residents struggle not only from a cognition perspective and needing that verbal cuing to be able to eat, but they might not be able to physically eat either. So what’s happened is we have taken a place where they might be able to have some assistance and they, and somebody, a CNA or a nurse staff might be able to feed the resident or two residents at a time. Now they’re in a room where they’re actually having to have independent one-on-one assistance, which has created some challenges for us. So activities now and even some of the administrative staff have stepped up to help us provide that assistance to the residents. 


We- every resident has a different kind of diet, right? We all have our own individual needs and diets that we need to follow. Some residents have problems chewing and swallowing and they need to have a modified texture diet. Those things have not changed since COVID has come into play. So we have to make sure that those still happen even though they’re in their rooms. So everybody as a team has really stepped up to try and make that happen. 


People have gotten really creative of providing snacks in between meals. So right now having three square meals a day probably isn’t as important as having those snacks in between. So we’ve gone to really like six small meals a day or maybe three medium sized meals and three snacks because we’re finding that if we touch the resonant, those three more times, that gives them a little bit more socialization, gives them a little bit more contact with the outside world, so to speak within their community. So we’ve created snack carts that go down the hallways that have all the different diets and types and foods on them. At first, people were using like ice cream carts and novelties and all of these great things. And yes, that was okay for the first week or two. But reality is those are not the most nutritious foods. And as a dietician, I want to make sure that we have the most nutrient dense foods that we can provide for them and that they’re feeling good. I don’t know about you, but when I come home from a state fair and I’ve eaten a whole bunch of junk food, I don’t always necessarily feel great. You know, it was fun at the time, but it doesn’t always make me feel really good. So now that we’re into week five, we had to really reshift and focus to make sure that we were providing the best nutrients that we can. Doesn’t mean we can’t have ice cream all the time, once a week, maybe twice a week, but it can’t be an everyday thing. That’s not the solution. We’ve got to provide that nutrition. We’ve got to give them those fruits and vegetables and smoothies and those kinds of things that they’re used to and that they enjoy.


Josh: So Erin, my heart just sank a little bit when you said we couldn’t have ice cream every day. I did not know that was part of that diet. I appreciate you instructing me of that right now. 


So but as we shift and you know, there’s going to be this transition time, we know where we’re the new norm, we get past this, but some things may not ever go back to exactly the way they were and we were learning so many things on how we can adapt and technologies that we can use and better ways to communicate. Are there any things that kind of forward looking, you have hunches on that that may not go back to business as normal prior to [inaudible] that that may be positive things that from a hospitality and from a serving standpoint, from a resident experience in infection control, that might look a little different as we move past this and get back to the normal?


Erin: Yeah, I definitely think right now we are in the vision planning stage of how it’s going to look when we reopen our dining rooms. I think that it’s important that we do it slowly and methodically, that we make sure that they’re still safe. With that said, we’re looking at how our dining rooms will be set up to make sure that we have them cleaned correctly and that we’re providing the infection control that needs to happen, that we’re wiping down the tables, wiping down the arms, doing all those things that we should be doing anyway, but I do think that silverware will be rolled now and it won’t be just set out on the table the way that the table is set up with the condiments. We used to have a whole bunch of condiments, kind of like a kitchen table with all sorts of stuff. I’m more like a fast food restaurant where it has the salt and pepper and sugar and all those little individual condiments. I do think now that the condiments will be delivered to the tables for residents on an individual basis and that we won’t have that opportunity to have all that in the middle. 


It will elevate the experience, I believe, and provide more of a hospitality, more of a restaurant style. That’s what we’re hoping from all of this. We also are hoping that people don’t rush out into the dining room, that maybe we have a more liberalized dining hour so that it, not everybody has to eat at noon, but maybe they can eat from 11 to one so that the dining rooms aren’t always packed full of people, but spread out more throughout the day, more of an all day dining philosophy, which is really I think would be helpful and positive as we move forward through this crisis.


Lucas: Erin, as we round up the show, because I know that you’ve got to get back to doing all that heavy lifting that you’re doing category, there’s going to be a new workforce that could potentially enter into this space and with you being such a great mentor in nutrition and hospitality and wellness, what would you say to that hospitality professional that’s worked in hotels and restaurants, their career and they’re, they just don’t know where, what to do, where to go. They’re scared. How would you talk to them about the opportunities in senior living?


Erin: Oh my goodness. I think the purpose and the meaningfulness that you can achieve through senior living is unbelievable. The relationships that you build every day with these folks is- it’s enormous and I think that you can’t be scared to go into these communities. We have such a rich history in our older adult population. They teach me something every day and I think that it’s important that we embrace it. It’s an opportunity for them to be able to share their hospitality experience and yet learn from our older adults as well. Absolutely. Come into this field. It is by far the best experience I’ve ever had. I’ve been doing it almost 30 years now and I would never have changed anything.


Lucas: Very well said. Erin Van Vulkenberg with Morrison Living. Thank you for dedicating your career to this. Thank you for what you’re doing. And to all of our listeners out there, just know that we’re thinking about you, praying for you and that we believe in you. Please reach out to us at Look in the show notes for links and important information and have a great day. Thanks for listening to Bridge the Gap.

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BTG COVID-19 Ep. 22: Best Practices: Dining, Nutrition and Wellness with Erin Van Valkenburgh