Providers Offer Tips for Easing Dining Workforce Pressures

Workforce stability in senior living dining services has recently been identified as an area of paramount concern, and providers dealing with the issue tout the importance of consistent leadership, training programs and growth opportunities in confronting it head on.

Panelists chimed in Thursday to share their own experiences with workforce challenges and reflect on various other themes recently unveiled in survey findings from provider association LeadingAge and dining services firm Unidine.

Though they come from different perspectives—Larry Gumina, CEO of Ohio Living, doesn’t outsource dining management services, while Judy Amiano, President and CEO of Franciscan Ministries, does contract with Unidine for dining management services—they’re quite similar in how they address workforce pressures. 


For example, Unidine lauds the advantages of outsourcing in hiring and retention, such as by providing greater career advancement than may be possible for a food service worker employed directly by a senior living provider. For Franciscan Ministries, which offers senior living services in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, outsourcing dining management services with Unidine has led to investment in training, which in turn leads to higher retention, Amiano said. Chefs that work for the communities are aware that there’s an upward growth opportunity for them, and that means attracting a higher caliber of chefs, as well.

“I think the training programs Unidine has brought to bear have been invaluable,” Amiano said.

However, Ohio Living also makes a point to hire the right people first, identify leaders within the organization, invest in them and continue to nurture them to facilitate career advancement in a similar way to Franciscan Ministries. And while the Columbus-based, 12-campus provider may not have the same depth on its bench when turnover occurs, Ohio Living pays close attention to the recruitment of top-level talent, Gumina said.


And when it comes to overall dining workforce stability, leadership is critical to consistent execution.

“It comes down to leadership and engagement,” Gumina said. “The ability to lead and our ability to support them…is infectious throughout our operations.”

Other topics addressed by the panel include:

  • Dining as a part of a provider’s brand: Dining plays a critical role in a senior living provider’s brand identity, Gumina and Amiano agreed. For Ohio Living, emphasis is placed on uniformity across the brand, and that holds true in culinary services, too. Meanwhile, dining plays into larger branding changes at Franciscan Ministries, Amiano said.
  • Strategic focus on dining: Franciscan Ministries and Ohio Living alike view strategic planning around dining as a competitive edge. In fact, Ohio Living even changed the name of its dietary department to culinary and nutritional services to emphasize its strategy around dining. And Unidine brought a new level of resources to Franciscan Ministries that the organization was lacking previously in terms of its strategy, Amiano said.
  • Top challenges in dining: Staffing is certainly a challenge for senior living providers’ dining programs, but several other issues have arisen, as well. Appropriate budgets to match resident expectations and ensuring fine dining at all levels of care are challenges Franciscan Ministries identified, and Ohio Living pointed out the increasing role of technology across the board.

Written by Kourtney Liepelt

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