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All Hands on Deck: Dining Assistance Training for Non-Dietetic Teams

A Clinical Nutrition Manager discuss Sodexo’s proprietary training program, Helping Hands, which builds feeding assistance skills for non-nursing members of the senior living team.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, senior communities have been challenged by significant staffing shortages while implementing increased precautions regarding cleaning, social distancing, and personal safety equipment. However, senior care teams have remained focused on their core mission of senior care: resident engagement, comfort, and well-being.  

For Christina Zeiders, RD, LDN, clinical nutrition manager at Claremont Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, the key to maintaining – and enhancing – residents’ experience has been training other staff members across departments, roles, and responsibilities.  

Adapting to the new COVID-19 environment meant this was the perfect time for non-nursing and non-nutrition staff to learn new skills and adapt responsibilities to ensure the residents continue to feel they are supported by teams who care deeply.  

In light of physical distancing, adapted meal delivery, and closed dining rooms, registered dietitians in senior communities have been even more aware of their duty to support proper nutrition for residents. With Helping Hands, non-dietetic staff are trained in dining assistance. 

“Previously it was the Resident Assistant only,” says Christina, referring to the typical role of a dining assistant at Claremont. However, Helping Hands training was extended to all members of staff. “Now business office people, transportation people, medical staff…it’s become our standard of care for every new employee.”

According to Christina, Helping Hands has filled staff across departments with the motivation and encouragement to engage staff. “They’ve all gone above and beyond their normal role description,” she says. “They call in with requests on how to help. They ask how they can do more.” 

As a dietitian, Helping Hands directly supports nutrition of residents, with more staff engaging and making sure residents who require dining assistance are comfortable. “They know they can talk to these people (who they hadn’t interacted with before),” she says. “They feel comfortable.” 

Helping Hands training extend her own expertise as a nutrition manager. “It gives us the opportunity to explain the nutritional aspect along with the other aspects,” she says. “We can give them more a more comparable explanation – we relate by examples, by their snacks, hydration, and meals. We can educate the staff in the course of their work. We can explain every food option we offer.”  

This means staff take the opportunity to engage residents. “Spending more time, encouraging what is presented… And certainly, any extra attention or assistance, will help the residents improve in overall care, which will mean better nutrition and hydration.” 

According to Christina, non-Sodexo staff are constantly calling her office, inspired by their Helping Hands training, looking for more ways to engage and assist in dining. “One gentleman is calling me all the time because he’s representing so many residents and he says, ‘I don’t feel I’m doing my job unless I’m helping someone each day I’m here.’”

March 01, 2021

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