Why did you decide to become a CDM?
This is really a two-part answer. About 17 years ago my grandmother was diagnosed with onset Alzheimer’s shortly after that she had fell and broke her hip which needed rehab therapy. Studies prove that any individual that has onset Alzheimer’s, and experiences something traumatic, like the fall of a broken hip, will increase the speed of Alzheimer’s. My grandmother spent several weeks at a rehabilitation facility and had many difficulties desiring to participate in any type of therapy and even eat her meals. I remember speaking with my mother on the phone and her exact words were, “she just has no desire to live anymore.”
Fortunately, I was in a position where I could spend a lot of time with my grandmother and visit her at the rehabilitation facility. I traveled about 30 minutes everyday for several weeks to spend that time with my grandmother. I would show up very early just to ensure that she participated in her therapy and to make sure she was eating her meals. I knew that if she was not eating then she would not have the energy to participate in therapy, so my focus was making sure she was getting the necessary nutrients that she needed. After therapy we decided to put her in an assisted living facility where you could see the speed of Alzheimer’s settling within my grandmother. I spent several weeks in and out of nursing homes visiting my grandmother until it was her time to leave us. Allowing myself to be able to spend this time with my grandmother opened my eyes and my heart to appreciate the life of the elderly community. Naturally surrounding myself within the food industry, this made me realize that I could have an impact on someone else’s life through food. My heart was desiring to have an impact within the elderly community but at this time I was just not sure how I could implement that into my life.
It wasn’t about 5 years ago that my 5-year-old daughter, at the time, would inspire me to take my career further. At the time I was working in a daycare facility as a cook. Food had always been a huge part of my life and somehow, I knew I would be working with food for the rest of my life. I planned and prepared all the meals for children-infant to school age. I enjoyed my job immensely, but I knew that this was not going to be the end of the road for me; I knew there was something much bigger in store for me. My daughter was attending the daycare at the time; which was perfect for me as a mother. Of course, she was my biggest critic when it came to my food. She was always honest and would tell me if something wasn’t good, although that didn’t happen often. I ran the kitchen at the daycare and realized that yes this was a great job, but it was not challenging enough for me and I needed MORE. I thrived on, what I call, organized chaos. I had my own catering business as well at the time, which was doing very well, but I still needed more. Every day after lunch at daycare my daughter would say, “Mommy you’re the best cooker ever!” As much as that was wonderful to hear from my 5-year-old daughter, to me it just wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to be just a cooker all my life, I desired much more than this.
One day as we were driving home, again, my daughter said, “Mommy you are the best cooker in the world.” I started to tear up a little and my daughter quickly noticed. She asked me what was wrong, and I remember telling her that I was very happy that I was the best cooker to her, but I wanted to be more than just a cooker. Now, my daughter was getting ready to start kindergarten which was a very exciting time in her life and she quickly responded, “Mommy, you can go back to school just like I am going to start school and we can go to school together.” After that moment my daughter was constantly asking me when I was going to start school with her. She basically pushed me to make the decision. That moment when she said those words to me it was as though something was planted in me. I knew that was exactly what I had to do. I wanted a better career and a better life for my daughter but most importantly, I wanted to be someone that my daughter could look up to. If it weren’t for my daughter speaking those words to me I don’t think I would have even thought about going back to school. I owe that to my oldest daughter Claudia Rae.
What are your main responsibilities in your current position?
Main responsibilities in my job now include being financially accountable for the culinary department. I operate the department, in accordance with the approved budget, while providing the client with the maximum value for the dollars spent. I also ensure that the food being offered to the residents, guests, and employees of the community is of superior quality. I focus on menu planning and proper nutritional needs for each diet that enters our community. I am the direct supervision of all aspects of the resident nutrition care program, utilizing the expertise of the Regional Director of Nutrition to maintain compliance with the nutrition care program. I maintain the department in an “inspection ready” state always, assuring the department operates within federal, state, and local regulations. I direct and conduct safety, sanitation and community education programs. I strive to promote the professional growth and development of the entire culinary team as I utilize the principles of Total Quality Management and empowerment in the operation of the department. It is extremely important that I continue to maintain excellent relations with residents, board members, Client and all community departments always. I also implement any type of change to the culinary department program that enhances the desirability of the community for current and future residents.
How do you organize your time at work to make sure you accomplish all your responsibilities?
Well, my day usually starts early but the very first thing that I do is make a list of ALL the things that need to be done for that day. My list is not in any type of order and some days it is short and some days it is very long. My goal, day in and day out, is that I do not leave until everything on my list is completed. Sometimes this is an unrealistic goal but none the less, it is still my goal everyday. I also have a day planner right beside me that shows me everything that I have for that specific day and for the entire week and month. It may sound silly, but I color code everything in my day planner, so I can quickly glance at it and know what to expect and know what I have going on for that day. It’s simple, once I complete a task on my list I cross it off and move on to the next responsibility that I have. I have noticed that when you make a list and you are able to cross things off, you feel as though you are accomplishing things which becomes very rewarding.
What is an example of an innovative way you have made change at your facility and how did you implement it?
My last facility was at Milton Nursing and Rehabilitation in Milton, PA. I was there for a little over a year but made huge strides while there. The only reason I left this facility was because I had such a huge commute from home and I had the opportunity to be apart of my community and make a change within the ones where I had grown up.
While at Milton Nursing and Rehabilitation, a huge goal of mine was to implement an enhanced dining program for the community. We currently were delivering meals to residents through a tray line, which in my eyes, is so outdated and constitutional. We had such a huge, beautiful dining room to work with to our benefit.
We served meals directly to the residents just like you would as if you were sitting in a restaurant. Everything was a point of service from beverages freshly poured to salads plated and meals plated right directly in the dining room. We were able to fill our dining room with residents for each meal, but I had bigger plans in the making. I thought to myself, this is so wonderful for our residents to be able to get out of their rooms and have a place to gather for meals and come together with fellow community individuals but, what about the residents that were not mobile on their own and needed assistance for feeding?
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to create a seating area for these residents. This was an enhanced dining seating area for residents that needed assistance. These residents received the same point of service that every other resident received in the entire dining room. The first week we started this program we noticed that hydration was increasing, and the meal intakes were spiking the charts. Residents that had weight loss or difficulty with consuming meals were increasing by the day. I was completely amazed by this drastic change. I remember monitoring our assisted seating dining room about the third day and hearing a resident saying the food was hot; this touched my heart. I felt as though I had impacted that individual’s life through food; how rewarding that was. Not only were we now implementing an enhanced dining experience that was a complete point of service, we were also increasing fluid and meal intakes. Residents were receiving foods that were fresh and hot and more appealing.
Now, I have done this in my past experiences and I am about ready to make the exact same implementation in my current facility. Again, we currently serve meals on a tray line. Within the next 6 months, I am confident that this transition will be implemented successfully. While implementing this change it will be slightly different than my past facility. The only change will be that I don’t have a large main dining room to work with, but I will have several dining locations on hand. To many of these residents in our community, the only thing that look forward to and what they have everyday is a good meal. We should be able to produce high quality with the best service to our community and do it with pride. Delivering point of service, hot, fresh, delicious meals has always been the focus, after all, they deserve that type of service.
The biggest drive behind any successful implementation in any change is getting individuals behind you to support the change. The biggest success that I have had with this is to first plan and present it. The first individuals you need to get behind you is your staff. Having a meeting and basically brain storming and finding a way to make this change realistic is what we did. Having your staff be part of the change is really the biggest hurdle. You must keep in mind that you are basically taking everything they have ever known and done and wiping it clean and building from the ground up. I have learned that when you include individuals in any type of change and allow them to have a voice and be apart of that change the success is much greater. Once you feel confident that you have a plan then it’s time to present this change. Meeting with your client and the Director of Nursing was really the next step to get their approval. Not only is the culinary department going to be changing but also different tasks that nursing does will also change. Being able to put a spin on the implementation presented to nursing and offer benefits that will help nursing is key. And of course, the client (facility Administrator), will want to know what the benefit is overall for the community and basically how do we get from point A to point B. Once you feel you have a strong foundation on the change that will take place then it is time to present this to your community. These residents are the ones that need to approve and support the change completely. We are in the business where we as a culinary department are coming into these resident’s home and we need to respect that. The community is really the ones that have the final say.
Once you have your community, your staff, your nursing, and your client behind you for support in implementing these changes, now it’s time to get the word out to the community. I have found that in my past you must prepare individuals up for the change. I mean, let’s be honest, no one ever really enjoys change and for some, change is extremely difficult. I think therefore I have been so successful in any type of change because I thrive on organized chaos and I thrive on any type of change. Putting signs and posters up within your community to spread the word that change is coming, and it will be a beneficial and exciting change for everyone. You must get everyone excited about the change. I also sent personal letters to resident family members, so they were not in the dark about what was coming for their loved ones.
Once you are ready to implement this change the biggest success story for me is being elbow to elbow with your staff. Working the trenches with them and finding out what works and what doesn’t work and coming up with a resolution. We had several meetings after the first day we started the enhanced dining. These meetings consisted of my culinary department, the nursing staff, and then meetings with the residents. If something wasn’t working or flowing correctly then we were going to come up with a solution to make it more realistic and more functional.
What was your first job in the foodservice industry?
My first job in the foodservice industry was working the MTO at a local SHEETZ. I was only 15 and I remember getting in trouble for always trying to put my own twist on certain foods I had to make. I always told my boss that the food could always look and taste better and that people eat with their eyes. It wasn’t until about 5 years later that I would start slinging pizzas at a local pizza shop and realize that food was where my heart and passion was. I worked at several local restaurants from line cooking, to fine dining, to cocktailing and then eventually running my own catering business and becoming a CDM, CFPP.
Who has been your biggest mentor in foodservice and how have they helped shape your career?
Again, this is really a two-part answer. My biggest mentor in foodservice has been one of my best friends Dan’Elle Steele RD, LDN. We met about 5 years ago. It’s funny; she was an RD at a local Skilled Nursing Facility where I had applied for the Foodservice Directors position. The job description was everything I was currently doing but I just didn’t have that piece of paper that said I was a CDM, CFPP or the proper education. At the place I was currently working my co – worker was basically family with Dan’Elle Steele and we were putting the pieces together as I was telling her the story of me applying for this Directors job. Long story short, I met with Dan’Elle and she offered me a part time job at the skilled nursing facility and encouraged me to consider getting my CDM certificate. My part time job quickly turned into a full-time job while doing online schooling to become a CDM, CFPP. Dan’Elle Steele mentored me and proctored me through he whole course. Less than a year later I became a CDM, CFPP. I owe it all to Dan’Elle Steele. She taught me basically everything I know currently. Directly after I got certified I was offered a Directors job with the same company I was working with currently, just a commute away from home. The facility I was going to, I remember Dan’Elle telling me that it was a very difficult facility. She said that if I could successfully work at that facility then I could do anything. She was right! I remember many nights driving that long commute and just feeling so discouraged; I would call Dan’Elle and she always had a way to turn things around and offer me a different way to look at the situation. When I was very discouraged or struggled with something she was always there to talk me through every situation. It’s funny because we even started a CDM, CFPP & RD, LDN support group for individuals in the current job positions and meet every month just to bounce things off each other and find support in each other within the common job that we do.
Now, to explain the person who helped truly shape my career is one of the more difficult things to express upon. On November 6, 2016 I lost my older brother. Here was a person that I looked up to my entire life; someone that I always felt that I needed to get his approval on everything that I did. Someone that truly taught me everything that I have ever learned in my life. When I became a CDM, CFPP I remember having a conversation with my brother where I felt like I finally got his seal of approval on my life. As if he was saying, you did it, you finally made something successful of yourself and most importantly he said he was proud of me. My brother was a huge part of my life growing up so when I had to say goodbye to him it was as if my entire life ended. My brother, Randall S. Stahl Jr., has been my driving force since I had to say goodbye to him. I tend to take on challenges, that may at the time, seem unrealistic to some but to me I grab it by the horns of the bull and run with it and make it successful. I have never had such a passion and fire in my heart to be successful in my life and my career and be able to make a change in an individual’s life like I do now. My brother was a huge part of our community where we live, so finally being offered this job within our community felt as though he had his hand in the making. After my brother passed away I had more of a passion to be more of my community just like he did and now I had that opportunity. My brother is my driving force and he has shaped me to be the most successful in my career. Everything I do from day to day I look to him in it. Being able to offer residents the best food within the best atmosphere, he would be proud.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?
The biggest challenge in my position is retaining staff within my department. There are so many other places to work that have competitive wages and it is difficult to stay competitive with those places. The job that my culinary team performs is difficult at times. I mean, when you think about it, you have these individual’s life in your hands especially when it comes to certain types of diets. Ensuring that each resident receives the correct diet can be challenging at times. Training is key when it comes to staffing and ensuring that they are feeling appreciative in the jobs they hold. You constantly must strive to make sure your staff not only enjoys what they are doing but feels rewarded. I have learned that you can tell your staff that they are doing a great job but being able to explain in depth of why they are doing such a great job speaks louder than words.
What is your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of my job is speaking with any resident and seeing that smile on their face as they express how much they enjoyed their dining experience and enjoyed the food. Like I have said before, being able to have an impact on an individual’s life through food is so rewarding. To these residents, food is the only thing they have so being able to deliver the best food to them in the best atmosphere is the focus.
How do you stay up to date with current innovations and trends?
Honestly, reading articles in the many magazines that are available to you allows you to see what others are doing in their own operations. Engaging yourself in forums and discussion boards such as on ANFP websites is very informative. Also, discussing concerns with residents and their family members can be equally enlightening. Knowing who your competitors are and what they are offering within your community allows your company to have a competitive edge when it comes to family members making that choice for their loved one.
How do you envision the foodservice industry in the next few years and foodservice?
Today’s consumers are much more adventurous and fickle than ever before. As baby boomers age, senior services continue to grow exponentially. For an aging population with sophisticated tastes and expectations; foodservice is far from an afterthought at hospitals and retirement communities catering to this segment of the population. In fact, the quality of the food and dining environment significantly influences residents’ choice of facilities. I believe in senior living, we’re all seeing a generational shift with new residents who are much younger and want restaurant-style experiences with upscale food served in beautiful dining rooms. Improving food quality at all points of healthcare foodservice will continue to top the healthcare foodservice providers’ priorities. With the competition for high customer satisfaction scores, room service will continue to be implemented but with a more efficient model that is less labor intensive.
What is your advice to those just getting started in the foodservice industry?
It’s not easy and it gets tough at times but the focus you must have is that you keep the residents first on the forefront of your mind. They are the reason why we do what we do. If you can just have an impact on just one resident’s life, then you have made a difference. When things get tough it is important to also have that person you can express yourself to. That person must be able to give you valuable advice and be an encouragement to you. Do not give up and stay strong. One must strive to be the very best at what they are pursuing and what they are trying to accomplish; it is then when you will get much satisfaction and pride in yourself and your accomplishments.