CDM, CFPP of the Month - July 2015

Dhammika Ekanayake, CDM, CFPP
Name: Dhammika Ekanayake, CDM, CFPP

Job Title: Food Services Director

Employer: St. John’s Village and Stollwood Convalescent Hospital

Job Location: Woodland, CA

Years at Current Facility: Since 2002

Years in Current Position: 10 years

CDM Since: 10/25/2008

Why did you decide to become a CDM, CFPP?

Initially, I felt there will be more credibility to my position if I am certified. Once I was certified, the facility required me to maintain my credentials to be compliant with California State Food Service regulations.

What are your main responsibilities in your position?

In addition to our Executive Chef, as the Certified Dietary Manager, I am responsible for complying
with the California State Food Service regulations (Title 22), Yolo County Health Department Food
Service regulations and Serve Safe Food Service regulations to maintain a zero deficiency Food
Services Department at all times for St. John’s Village Senior Living Community and Stollwood
Convalescent Hospital in Woodland, California.

Currently, a significant part of my duties are concentrated in Stollwood Convalescent Hospital
covering the “Food & Clinical Nutrition” section of the care plan for residents at the Stollwood
Convalescent Hospital. Additionally, the Consultant Dietitian, Nursing, Rehabilitation, support staff,
Consultant MDs and Nurse Practitioners rely on the CDM as the “link” between the Convalescent
Hospital and the Foodservice Department for all food & nutrition services. As and when needed, I also
extend my services to the residents and families, nursing and medical staff in the assisted living and
memory care facilities of the campus.

What is an example of an innovative way you have made a change at your facility and how did you implement it?

Since I started working at SJRV, my dream was to implement a “restaurant style” foodservice at the
Convalescent Hospital dining room. Initially, with training and coaching, the staff became competent
and skilled in maintaining an error-free tray line system of foodservice to the hospital. I felt that was
“old school” and was not happy. I wanted to offer the same style of meal service at the Convalescent
Hospital as the rest of the campus. With the support and encouragement of the (then) Administrator,
the Executive Chef and dietary staff, my wish to serve a hot meal in the dining-room was accomplished.
The Executive Chef brought in hot meals from the kitchen and placed in a large steam table
and successfully eliminated the “Institutional tray line system” which transformed the entire style of
meal service to an “elegant dining experience” for the residents.

Since then, nursing staff, residents, families, and all enjoy the spacious, bright and well laid out dining room that looks out to a beautifully landscaped flower garden. Residents, families and loved ones have the opportunity to watch the cooks serve three hot meals a day. Substitutes are offered and served from the steam table with no delays. This transformation has created an association and bonding between some residents and families with dietary staff and cooks.

To entertain our residents, volunteers play the piano, 1950s’ music is played on a CD player, and the facility bird joins in with his whistling tunes. Between meal times the same dining room is used by residents to socialize with family & loved ones. They engage in fun activities while relaxing and listening to music. This spacious room is now associated with “happy events” promoting an ideal location for a pleasant dining experience. On many occasions, Dietitians and Surveyors (California Department of Public health) have complemented our style of meal service.

How did you first get started in the foodservice industry?

With a degree in clinical Nutrition, I started as a Clinical Dietitian in the National Hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Back then, my passion was in the field of Nutrition in Public Health. During my 10 years of wonderful work experience in Sri Lanka, I accomplished many projects in the field of Nutrition in public health. However, after moving to Canada and California, I saw the potential in Long-Term Care at Convalescent Hospital and since have enjoyed a career in foodservices.

What are the biggest challenges in foodservice and how do you handle them?

My biggest challengers are when I’m unable to convince a 90+ year old resident who complains to me saying “I’m tired, it’s not your food, I’m tired of eating to live”, “I grew up during the depression times, I get too much to eat”, “I don’t like to waste food”, “give me very little food”, “I had a big meal a little while ago, do I need to eat again?”, or “I have never eaten like this before”. These are challenging situations since residents have the right to refuse meals. We have to get creative and provide them with food choices and times of service per their wish and this too may not always be a success. Very often the nurse practitioners, consultant dietitian, nursing staff, dietary staff and family members assist us with innovative suggestions.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I take pride in the competence of my Dietary staff. I rely on them to be confident and do their very best under pressure and, at all times, to satisfy the needs of our residents and honor their needs. During the annual surveys, when my cook assures me, “everything is under control” and the surveyors tell me “your cooks do a good job”, that’s when I feel success. Also, during my absence, when my dietary staffs have excelled in what they have done, when they have performed their very best in every aspect of foodservice and are complimented by residents, families, nursing staff and the consultant dietitian, that’s when I truly feel accomplished. A CDMs rewards come with generosity of service. With the approval of the facility Dietitian, I make every effort to honor food preferences for residents by changing and updating menus for residents through out the entire SJRV campus.

Another opportunity is when a “teary-eyed” family member can be assured that we are competent in managing a complicated diet order and when I’m able to relive their anxiety. When we have done everything possible for a resident to eat, when they gain strength and show weight gain, when family members are thankful for all what we did to feed their loved ones during the last days of their life.
As a CDM I have had the opportunity of working and serving the needs of people, from all walks of life, assist, and learn from professionals with many expertize.

I have been fortunate to meet and work with talented executive chefs and dietary staff who are sincerely dedicated to the field of foodservice. The end of a stressful day is complimented with many such rewards.

How do you stay up-to-date with current innovations and trends?

I make time to read or at least glance through magazines such as “Edge”, “Food Management” “Food Service Director” and check the ANFP website to see the discussions of CDMs all around the nation on ANFPConnect. The Consultant Dietitian keeps up with current innovations and trends and always shares information withi us. Whenever possible, I attend “Health & Clinical Nutrition” and “Diet Therapy & Foodservice” seminars and conferences in CA.

How do you envision the foodservice industry in the next few years and beyond?

In the coming year’s foodservice trends will change significantly because the baby boomers are very active. They eat healthy. They read and have the knowledgeable of proper nutrition. The trends are moving towards wholesome and organic foods. The elderly prefer to live longer in their homes. They know their rights and expect the best. CA State and Federal Food codes/ regulations are getting to be of higher standards and implementing them will be challenging. Convalescent Hospitals should be ready to offer upscale dining experiences to be marketable to a demanding cliental.

What is your advice to those just getting started in the Food Service Industry?

The demands of the long-term health care industry will be highly competitive in years to come. A CDM will benefit from having several skills to be competent in this highly demanding industry. One has to understand good customer service. In long-term care, we have to be prepared to please demands from residents/patients, family members, administrators, nursing, rehabilitation, medical, support staff, Dietitians and our own dietary staff. Therefore, we have to be ready to handle a stressful, demanding work load and be able to work under pressure and meet constant deadlines. Additionally, long-term care food services will be highly regulated at the Federal Government and at State levels.

Expect a new challenge everyday. With the right attitude, a CDMs job is fun, entertaining, and it’s comforting to know that a CDMs expertize can be rewarded in many fields of service. CDMs should not limit one’s self only to the healthcare industry but venture out to serve the nation in many more unique fields such as the Military and other Service industries, long-term care, acute care, schools (K-12), and the prison system are just a few examples. Train yourself well, offer multiple skills and expect a high standard of return for your hard work. Attend meetings and make every effort to network with CDMs nationally. Connect with ANFP to develop opportunities for continuation of higher education and training. The rewards come with generosity of service. Some days you may hear it but most often, a job well done is felt in your own heart. Always take pride in your career as a CDM, you will feel successful.