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Exquisite culinary experiences, virtual reality adventures, and extraordinary outings are not the norm in long term care. It is, thus, by embracing such amenities that Watermark retirement communities has managed to set itself apart. 

The Tucson-based organization—one of the largest long term care organizations in America, with fifty-one senior living communities spanned across twenty-one states—continues to find ways to make long term care more appealing. And its most recent focus has been placed on its food services.

This endeavor to improve the nutrition of residents is part of Watermark’s largest project of measuring the comfort of seniors using the Seven Dimensions of Well-being

At Watermark Retirement Communities, residents' health comes first.
The food at Watermark Retirement Communities is carefully prepared to ensure the well-being of residents.
  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Vocational
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Environmental
  • Intellectual

Such well-being is achieved through VR and outdoor activities and by focusing on what residents can, rather than cannot, do. But, perhaps, most impactfully, well-being is achieved through proper nutrition. That is why Watermark recently moved to eliminate processed and frozen foods from their meal plan. “I’ve been given the freedom to try new and innovative things, pushing the boundaries of what’s expected from senior living,” said Keo Velasquez, a former chef who is now the executive director of Watermark’s The Preston in the Cities, based in Dallas. 

During a recent appearance on the LTC Heroes podcast, Velasquez discussed how he and his staff strive to create a dining experience for residents and their families so that they can “thoroughly enjoy it and be excited to have a meal with mom or dad.” You can listen to the entire interview below: 

The Importance of Nursing Home Food

While food is made a priority in the Watermark retirement communities, the same cannot be said for other long term care facilities. Numerous incidents of malnutrition and poor food standards, severely detrimental to the quality of life of residents, have been reported through various news outlets. Recent research shows that diet not only impacts physical health but also a person’s mental health, showing a correlation between poor diets and mood disorders for anxiety and depression. 

Therefore, nursing home food is of utmost importance, especially because as a person ages, their dietary requirements change. Further, eating the right food can prevent long-term illnesses and health conditions, like memory loss, digestion problems, and maintaining a healthy weight. This is why many facilities have recognized the significance of long term care software, which allows staff to efficiently and accurately document changes in dietary habits. 

Contact us here if you would like to test drive our user-friendly software.

Long term care facilities are often the primary source of nutrition for residents. Therefore, they must be hyper aware about giving residents the nutrients they need for longevity and quality of life. Some of the attributes of the food to be provided at a long term care facility are that it is:

nursing home residents eating food
Nursing home food is one of the most important considerations for potential residents.
  • Nutritious: Fruit and vegetables are rich in vitamins and an excellent source of dietary fiber. They should, thus, be a point of emphasis. They also help to maintain a healthy gut while preventing constipation and digestion problems. 
  • Low in cholesterol: Examples include nuts and oatmeal, which are a great source for vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They help to reduce heart disease and lower blood sugar levels. They are also an excellent snack to help maintain a healthy weight. 
  • Devoid of empty calories: Snacks like  candy and chips are high in things like sugar and excess fat that can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease when consumed excessively. In general, it is crucial to limit the sugar intake for seniors. 
  • Low in saturated and trans fats: Fried foods like french fries and donuts raise cholesterol levels that can lead to heart disease and strokes in seniors.
  • Hydrating: Infused water and unsweetened green tea are great for hydrating the body. As people age, it is common to lose your sense of thirst. But staying hydrated is an important matter, as it regulates the body’s temperature and keeps the organs functioning properly. Therefore, it is recommended for seniors to drink approximately 1.7 liters of fluid per day

Complying With Nursing Home Food Regulations

When it comes to nursing home food regulations, it is essential for long term care facilities to prioritize food safety practices, especially as there is a higher chance of hospitalizations and deaths due to foodborne illnesses for seniors in long term care; research shows that foodborne diseases cause 10 to 100 times more deaths in nursing homes than in the general population, indicating there is a significant issue to address.

So why are the numbers of foodborne illnesses in long term care facilities so high? Long term care residents often spend more time in confined spaces, which means it is easier to transmit germs from passing facility staff and visiting family. 

2 3
Nursing home food regulations are designed to ensure that seniors are healthy and safe.

Preventing foodborne illnesses in long term care

While food safety includes regular handwashing and appropriate food preparation, there are several additional practices that need to be administered to ensure food is handled correctly, such as:

  • Purchasing food from approved FDA vendors
  • Ensuring safe food handling and infection control to avoid cross-contamination
  • Cooking food at the appropriate temperature to kill microorganisms
  • Ensuring food is not left out for extended periods
  • Following food safety protocol, like storing cold food at 41 degrees and hot food at 135 degrees

Food services and the future of long term care

As the baby boomer generation is approaching retirement age, there will continue to be a high demand for long term care services. While it is imperative for long term care facilities to meet the food safety standards of the FDA and FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service), they also have a responsibility to preserve a high quality of life for their residents. That means providing food that increases the appetite of residents and improves their mental state. 

Food, of course, is more than mere sustenance. It is also a basic human right. As such, residents must be given the option to eat what they like. That is why we have witnessed a gradual shift from the traditional, cafeteria-style tray operations to more homelike environments in long-term care facilities in recent years. Exceptional facilities, like the Watermark retirement communities, have a team of classically trained chefs and offer restaurant-dining options providing residents with mealtime choices and flexibility with meal schedules.

There is a growing trend toward offering more restaurant-style dining in long term care facilities. Facilities that provide a variety of menus like summer menus in nursing homes or breakfast menus tend to benefit from happier residents and families, which leads to higher facility occupations, an essential factor in an already competitive market.

The executive director of Watermark had sensed this shift across the long term care industry from an institutional atmosphere and turned to his hospitality experiences to “move away from the traditional food style you see at a nursing home and elevate the culinary program.” Velasquez implemented innovative changes to the menu, including using “super fresh ingredients and cooking everything from scratch, creating a different approach to food” that produces meals that are flavorful and different. 

Velasquez also changed the palette of the community, effectively making the nursing home food healthier and more “life-friendly” by reducing the sodium intake. Sodium not only desensitizes the palette, but it can also lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes. “At that age, [sodium] isn’t really good for you,” he said.   

Of course, Watermark retirement communities also know that, in order to increase quality of life, an appropriate diet must be accommodated by lively activity. That is why they provide a wealth of programs like their Watermark University, providing a range of courses on tai chi, guitar, yoga, and gardening. 

Food at Watermark Retirement Communities 

Food, as we know, is the way to most of our hearts. Unfortunately, in long term care, for too long, the importance of fresh, appetizing, and varied meals has been ignored. The Watermark retirement communities is among the long term care organizations that is embracing a trend toward a more intimate culinary experience and higher standards of food by offering unique restaurant-style dining and setting a high benchmark in hygiene standards. 

These measures are summarized in Watermarks’ “Best-Practices” handbook, which also includes safety standards for ensuring safe food preparation is followed. The success of Watermark and other such facilities largely comes to management. That is why they emphasize regular staff training, as it ensures their kitchens are both clean and safe, thus allowing their residents to relax and enjoy their food all day long. 

For more on recent trends in long term care, read our blog and subscribe to the LTC Heroes podcast

Noe Servin
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