Posted on Thursday, 21st May, 2020
While Aged Care has always been acutely aware of the impact of infections—bacterial and viral—on their residents and facilities, COVID-19 has significantly intensified the need for Aged Care kitchens and facilities to be completely prepared for an outbreak and have a full contingency plan in place. This will minimise operational disruption and keep both staff and residents as safe as possible.
In April, the Institute of Hospitality in HealthCare (IHHC) presented a webinar with foodservice expert Denise Cruickshank and Senior Dietician Bianca Guthrie to talk about how to prepare your kitchen for a COVID-19 outbreak.
Fortunately, there have been very few instances of Aged Care kitchens and facilities needing to move beyond a Stage 1 response to date.
In this article we look at the advice for preparing a COVID-19 response.
It is based on 4 stages: Stage 1 is business as usual, Stage 2 is reduced staff number and/or increased instances of COVID-19 in residents, Stage 3 is an increased number of casual and replacement staff and you will be dropping non-essential services, and Stage 4 means operating on skeleton staff and reduced meal service capability, potentially offering trolley service.
Stage 1 is predominantly a planning phase and aside from visitor restrictions, you may not have made many changes to your foodservice or kitchen processes.
Both Denise and Bianca highlighted the importance of thorough and early planning for Stages 2, 3 and 4. The ability to adapt and plan during those phases would be extremely difficult so the emphasis should be on creating a plan and doing as much as possible now, so any progression through the phases is as smooth and simple as possible.
The 7 key areas for planning consideration for Aged Care Kitchens
1. Staff continuity
It was suggested by Denise that any position within the kitchen would need at least three layers of contingency.
For example, three people would need to be trained to cover the weekend shift to allow for at least two people to be in quarantine for a two-week period.
Where it is not possible to have 3 Head Chefs or Chef Managers on call, you can ensure that other kitchen staff have the training to be able to continue providing meals and foodservice to residents.
It is also valuable to have a pool of casual staff who are familiar with your kitchen processes and meal preparation plans, so they are able to step in with little notice.
2. Kitchen Staff training
Staff training is key to the success of a good COVID-19 plan. All kitchen and foodservice staff need to be informed of what each stage entails. A central point of documentation which everyone can refer to is advisable.
Where not all staff have English as a first language, graphics can help clarify and inform.
Placing clear, easy-to-understand instructions on laminated sheets at the point of task (I.e. at the dishwasher or at an oven) will increase accuracy of operation and decrease the risk of mistakes being made.
3. Clinical Staff
Aged Care facilities are also advised to have contingency plans for clinical staff as well. Ensure your clinical team also has a plan in place. Where many clinical experts are already using technology to see residents, ensure your facility has the correct technology and access codes readily available—in case a casual staff member has to step in to assist a resident during an appointment.
4. Process and documentation
Now is the time to make sure all your documentation and processes are up to date and readily available.
Online meal planning apps can be updated and extended with meal plans in place for all stages. In the instance where a facility reaches Stage 4 and is dependent on a pool of casual staff, do they have enough information to ensure there is meal continuity, safety and hygiene standards are met and your residents are receiving the right level of care?
Your plan should also clearly state when and how your facility should move from one stage to the next.
As Denise pointed out in the presentation, there are no set rules for what has to happen and it is up to each facility to decide what their plan is and how they will implement it.
For example, some might start using disposable utensils at Stage 3—for others, when staff numbers are reduced below a certain number.
5. Supply chain
Speak to your suppliers to ensure they have contingency plans in place and clear lines of communication, in case there are shortages of some supplies.
This includes not only fresh food, food supplies, pre-made meals and texture-modified food, but your cleaning supplies and other consumable items such as paper napkins, disposable utensils and cups and plates which may be in high demand during Stages 3 and 4.
Where texture-modified food may have to come from a new supplier, it is advisable to have your speech pathologist assess it for consistency with your regular texture-modified food in case there is a discrepancy in texture which might affect a resident.
6. Infection response for Kitchen
If there is a case of COVID-19 in your kitchen, you will need to close the kitchen for a deep clean.
Anyone who has been in contact with or working with a person who has tested positive to COVID-19 will have to isolate for two weeks as per government guidelines.
As part of your infection response, you will need to implement your COVID-19 cleaning protocol for kitchen and dining areas and engage your back-up team of kitchen and food service staff.
Your back-up team should be aware of your menu plan/s or have access to detailed instructions for meal continuity.
7. Food, menus and supplies
A full set of menu plans can be prepared ahead of time so at each stage, it is clear to the kitchen team what needs to be done to keep mealtimes as smooth as possible.
Make sure it is easy for casual staff to access any electronic menu planners. There should also be clear instructions for them to document what happens at each meal to help supervisors, clinical staff and other kitchen staff stay on top of all residents’ needs.
As Australia and New Zealand appear to be in a good position to start lifting restrictions, Aged Care will remain one of the more vulnerable communities. Being prepared will help your residents stay healthy and safe.
This article is based on the IHHC presentation “Business Continuity Plans for Food Service During COVID-19”. Access the full IHHC presentation here.