CDM, CFPP of the Month - March 2016

Sonja Christensen, CDM, CFPP

Name: Sonja Christensen, CDM,CFPP

Job Title: Campus Food Service Director

Employer: Augustana Care Health and Rehabilition of Apple Valley and Apple Valley Villa

Job Location: Apple Valley, Minnesota

Years at Current Facility: 33

Years in Current Position: 33

CDM Since: 1981

Why did you decide to become a CDM, CFPP?

I started in long-term care food service at 16. I worked there during high school and two years of college. My supervisor saw something in me and sent me to school to get my CDM and I became her assistant. I worked with her for a short period of time. Her husband was an administrator at another facility that was going through a crisis and their state survey was due. I went to work there to “clean” things up with the understanding that if I liked it the job was mine. Needless to say, I was hooked. I worked there for two years. I then had the opportunity to open a new facility, Apple Valley Health Care Center. Three years later I had the opportunity to open my second kitchen in our apartment building.

What are your main responsibilities in your current position?

Presently we are a 178-bed long-term care center with a 56-bed transitional care unit. We also have a 210-unit senior apartment building with assisted living, memory care and care suites where we provide an evening meal. We have an adult day care that where 24 meals are presented at noon each day. We also have a smaller 3rd kitchen in our deli at the apartments that is open for breakfast and lunch.

How do you organize your time at work to make sure you accomplish all your responsibilities?

I have a total of 45 staff including two full-time Registered Dieticians. I am responsible for the total function of food service for all these areas including hiring, evaluating, purchasing, supervising, budgeting, sanitation, compliance and resident satisfaction. For the first time in 33 years, I have hired an assistant and she will start in March.

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

We have recently revamped our foodservice at the health care center from a very institutional model to one of serving in the dining rooms. We also added an a la carte, or always available menu, in addition to the alternate meal that we’ve always had.

At the apartments we have also changed our food service. We used to have residents call in their menu choices so that we would know what our numbers for the evening would be. Now, we have hard-covered menus that are at the tables that include the evening’s selections, as well as a la carte items.

Our latest great idea, which has yet to hit the dining room, is to have a salad cart where a staff member will prepare salad to order at tableside.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?

The biggest challenge facing us right now is the lack of qualified staff. There is a lot of competition for those part-time workers. I recently went to speak at our local vocational-technical school to encourage foodservice as a career in health care and ended up hiring a student that attended.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love that there is never a dull moment in my job. I am not chained to a desk or in the kitchen all day. I get to interact with great residents, their families, and all the staff and sales people.

What is your advice to those just getting started in the food service industry?

My advice to others is to create a network of people in the industry that you know you call on anytime. This is a great way to not only vent, but to share ideas, whether it is about recipes, staffing or concerns. Get involved in your professional organization. The time spent with others in your field is invaluable.