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The Importance of Stainless Steel

Amidst the global spread of COVID-19, sanitization is more important than ever, especially for healthcare facilities, who are on the front lines of the battle against this pandemic. Sanitary equipment is imperative to slowing the spread of COVID-19, and our healthcare facilities need access to increased amounts of supplies such as masks, ventilators, hospital beds, emergency carts, and other ancillary equipment. While hospitals are investing in additional supplies, we must consider what materials are best suited to combat this situation. Medical equipment is manufactured with various types of metals, plastics, and more. But which is the best for safety and sanitization? The consensus of the medical community is widely agreed upon: stainless steel.

What is stainless steel?

Stainless steels are iron-based alloys that contain at least 10.5% chromium and 1.2% or less carbon. There are many different types or grades of stainless steel which are created by altering the percentages of its contents, and adding in different metals and elements such as:

• Nickel
• Molybdenum
• Titanium
• Copper
• Carbon
• Nitrogen

In fact, there are over 50 different grades of stainless steel. Grades such as 200 and 400 series are widely used but they all share properties that cause this metal to have its unique sterilization capabilities. Stainless Steel gets its “claim to fame” due to its ability to resist rust and corrosion. This property is due to the addition of chromium which creates a chromium-oxide film on the surface when exposed to oxygen. This film acts as a barrier between the steel and the environment. If the film is broken, it has the ability to self-heal, as long as oxygen is present. With this ability, stainless steel makes an excellent choice for medical equipment that is constantly wiped down, washed and cleaned. All this cleaning would likely damage other materials but this where stainless really shines! It’s chromium-oxide film allows it to heal itself after getting beat up by the variety of cleaning methods necessary in a healthcare environment.

Why is stainless steel the hygienic standard in healthcare facilities?

The unique capability to self-heal helps create a surface that is very easy to sanitize in comparison to other materials used widely in medical equipment. Other materials such as ceramics, plastics and polymers are susceptible to micro cracks, dents, and scratches which harbor bacteria and other germs. Oftentimes these micro cracks are invisible to the naked eye, making these materials especially challenging to thoroughly clean. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is highly durable and resistant to cracks, dents and scratches. Its natural film protects the metal and reduces the amount of maintenance necessary. With all this in mind, it becomes clear why other materials cannot steel the crown from stainless steel as the king of durability and cleanability.

We can also see why stainless steel is widely used in medical applications. Not only is it extremely durable, but it is also an easy material to work with as it can be cut, welded, and shaped very easily, while providing extra strength. Stainless steel also lasts much longer than other materials and won’t scratch and dent over time. This makes stainless steel an excellent investment that ensures easy cleaning and low maintenance for years to come. Stainless steel also has high temperature resistance, meaning that even in high temperature environments it won’t deform or break under mechanical stress unlike many other materials.

Common Medical Applications of Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is used for a variety of different medical applications including:

  • Surgical Instruments
  • Cabinets
  • Sinks
  • Tables
  • Stands
  • Case Carts
  • Utility Carts

Stainless steel is specifically useful for utility carts as they must be able to carry heavy loads, while not being too heavy by themselves. Additionally, the sanitary element is very important for utility carts in healthcare facilities, and stainless steel provides the best surface to ensure safe and sanitary equipment. A great example of the strength of stainless steel comes from the Lakeside 444 Utility Cart which has a capacity of 500 lbs. while only weighing 68 lbs. itself. Utility carts like this have the best durability and value, because they will last much longer than a similar cart made from aluminum or a different alloy.

Importance of Stainless Steel During COVID-19

The ongoing pandemic is pushing the healthcare industry to the limit, and the need for safe and sanitary equipment is at an all-time high. Because COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, it spreads very easily, and healthcare facilities and equipment must be sanitized effectively. It is recommended that healthcare facilities assign the daily cleaning and disinfection of high touch surfaces to the nurses and personnel who will already be in close contact with the patient. The use of stainless steel instead of plastic or aluminum equipment makes the sterilization process simpler and takes a load off the healthcare professionals who are tasked with the job of cleaning these hazardous surfaces.

Lakeside Manufacturing is committed to supporting medical facilities with rapid manufacturing and shipping times. Our facility remains open and operational under the essential business provisions granted by local and federal guidelines. Please reach out if your facility is in need of case carts or utility carts during this challenging time. Lakeside is prepared to support increased demand of stainless steel products and remains dedicated to providing quality healthcare solutions.

Lakeside Has You Covered


Check out our COVID-19 resources page and product solutions pages for helpful, informative, and up to date information relevant to the pandemic in real time.

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A Guide to Disinfecting Stainless Steel

Medical communities around the globe are more preoccupied than ever with disinfecting equipment.  COVID-19 is changing the conversation about how we clean, not only in medical facilities but also at home and throughout our communities.  With stainless steel being the preferred material by the medical community, it is imperative that we understand how to properly sanitize stainless steel equipment.  Lakeside manufactures a wide variety of stainless steel medical carts, shelves and accessories and we’ve put together a guide on how to accomplish this.

Selecting a Disinfectant

According to a study from the National Institute of Health, the virus that causes COVID-19 was detectable on up to three days on stainless steel products. Therefore, verifying that the correct product is being used to disinfect surfaces is paramount.  The Environment Protection Agency created a list of disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19.

While bleach should generally be avoided for cleaning stainless steel products, common products such as Lysol Spray or Lysol Wipes can be used on stainless steel.  If you decide to use a product of this type, it is extremely important that you rinse the surface thoroughly with fresh water.  Lysol and similar products can be abrasive to stainless steel if the substance is on the surface of the stainless steel for an extended period.

Using the Right Tools

Prior to cleaning and disinfecting any surface, it is imperative to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  There are four major types of PPE including face shields, gloves, goggles, and gowns. At minimum gloves and eye protection should be used before cleaning any potentially contaminated surface.

Certain cleaning utensils like steel wool or other steel brushes are too abrasive for stainless steel.  These types of tools can contain iron particles.  When used to clean stainless steel, they can leave metal particles on the surface and lead to rust formation.  A soft cloth, gentle brushes, or sponges are much better alternatives.

The Cleaning Process

To effectively sanitize a stainless steel surface, it is recommended to begin by using hot soap and water. Using your towel, you can then begin to use any additional cleaning solutions.  Always rub in the direction of the steel grain for maximum effectiveness and to avoid scratching the surface.

After all disinfectants are applied, rinse the surface thoroughly with fresh, warm water.  Always remember to completely wipe the surface dry. This process should be repeated after every disinfecting operation.  As always – and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic – frequent cleaning is strongly recommended.

Lakeside Manufacturing is committed to supporting medical facilities with rapid manufacturing and lead times.  Our facility remains open and operational under the essential business provisions granted by local and federal guidelines. Lakeside is prepared to support increased demand of stainless steel products and remains dedicated to providing quality healthcare solutions.  For more information about the stainless steel carts we have available, please review our Healthcare Catalog.

Lakeside Has You Covered


Check out our COVID-19 resources page and product solutions pages for helpful, informative, and up to date information relevant to the pandemic in real time.

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One Easy Way to Save a LOT of Money on Senior Care Meal Service

The statistics are staggering. We waste as much as 40 percent of our food supply by throwing it away.

Essentially, that's like throwing away two $20 bills every time you bank out $100 from an ATM machine, and when you add it all up, it totals more than $160 billion annually. That's a lot of food, and it's certainly a lot of money.

Despite all the efforts by celebrity chefs like the late Anthony Bourdain to draw attention to these statistics and some of the creative efforts by countries and organizations to try to reduce it, food waste is still an enormous problem globally and is probably the biggest foodservice challenge here in the United States.

These facts are no different in healthcare generally and in senior care communities specifically. So how can it be reduced? Start by asking about the reasons food is thrown away, and the number one culprit is likely to be related to residents.

Essentially, food is being thrown away because though it may be served on the plate and lists are read, residents essentially don’t want it, aren’t eating it, and significant unwanted food is being thrown out.

Reasons Residents Choose Not to Eat and How to Prevent Those Foods from Being Wasted


This is certainly the top contributor. If residents are receiving plates with too much food, a lot of that food is being thrown away. If patients are still hungry, they can always ask for more. But if those plates are portioned out with too much, that food cannot be reused and must be thrown away.


If meals are pre-determined in terms of what's being served, residents won't always have the chance to opt out of part of the plate they may not like. Food preferences can easily change but info sheets/tickets don’t always stay up-to-date. Standardizing plates that arrive without choice can result in foods being thrown away because they're not preferred.


Too often, staff are in a rush and find it faster to make decisions on behalf of residents because they just assume they know what residents want. The problem is no one can decide really for someone else without a conversation. Too often in residential care, decisions are made on behalf of residents and this especially happens in the dining room on a daily basis.

What's the alternative? Self-determined meals.

How about this as a novel thought: Instead of bringing pre-selected plates to patients in a dining room, how about bringing the meal service to them so they can select what -- and how much -- they want, that follows all the CMS regulations and food safety guidelines. And it takes no extra staffing levels to do so.

By switching to this method alone, senior care communities can save enormous amounts of money on food that is typically thrown away. Even better, self-determined meals will also allow operators to provide a higher level of hospitality and results in residents more satisfied with the overall level of care received.

Does your senior care foodservice stack up?

You can learn more about ways to increase the level of foodservice in your senior care community, as well as how your operation rates, by taking our quick senior care foodservice assessment.

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Why a SuzyQ Foodservice Cart Is the Best Option for Senior Community Foodservice (and How You Can Pay for It)

The SuzyQ Cart System empowers senior care community residents in meal decisions, but there are more reasons than that to go with SuzyQ!

This unique system is designed to eliminate many of the challenges faced in residential care dining rooms, both from the operator perspective and from the client’s.  Meals can be served hot or cold, and space for all the texture modifications and condiments are delivered right to each resident's table, allowing her to "self-determine" what she wants to eat.

There are many ways to bring the meal to the table, though, so why use the SuzyQ Cart System (video)?

Designed with both operators and residents in mind, the SuzyQ's stainless steel construction is durable and reliable.  With a wide range of laminate finishes to choose from, it can easily fit within the décor scheme of just about any dining room.  It also comes with Registered Dietitian support which includes education resources, webinar classes, email and phone support to ensure success!

The SuzyQ also holds a variety of insert pan sizes, has a built-in plate compartment, and has pull-out storage drawers on full-size units to accommodate two full-size insert pans.  Basically, they hold the capacity to deliver a wide variety of choices to residents.  Plus, individual controls for hot wells deliver food hot to residents.

So how can you quickly pay for a SuzyQ Cart System? Start with some of the benefits:


When residents have control over what they want to eat -- and how much of it -- food waste plummets immediately.  Considering we waste roughly 40 percent of our food supply, every little bit counts -- and saves thousands of dollars.


SuzyQ Carts bring meals right to the table allowing staff members to interact with residents.  This gives employees enjoyable, meaningful work resulting in increased retention levels.  And when operators don't have to constantly find, hire, and train new employees, they save money.


When all the back and forth trips are eliminated and staff members aren't running plates two at a time, enormous amounts of time are saved making labor usage more efficient and impactful.  And, yes, time is money.


The people who live within the community walls are the ones paying to be there.  People talk.  Potential residents read reviews.  So when residents are "wowed" by the foodservice component of their day-to-day lives -- and foodservice is a driving factor in overall review scores -- it becomes a marketing tool, courting future residents as well.


When you add all these things up -- actually, when you take the savings on food waste alone -- a SuzyQ Cart System can pay for itself very quickly, usually in a few short months.

We invite you to learn more.  Spend some time in a free, one-on-one webinar with the creator of the SuzyQ, Suzanne Quiring. Suzanne is a Registered Dietitian specializing in residential care communities, and she'd love to share her knowledge on how SuzyQ is working in hundreds of homes.

Suzanne Quiring, RD

To set up a free one-on-one webinar with Suzanne Quiring to explore how her SuzyQ Cart System can help improve your senior care community dining program, simply fill out the form to the right and she'll follow-up with you in person to schedule a time to get together.

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Are Sneeze Guards the Only Way to Protect Food?

They're certainly one of the most established ways, but this just might change your perspective.

Sneeze guards. Food guards. Breath guards. Whatever the term, there seems to be a lot of mixed opinions about them, including whether they're mandatory.

This is especially important as we move away from institutional tray service or pre-plate service, to meal service style that is mobile - either in a common dining room or down a hallway in a homelike setting of long term care. I decided to dig deeper into the food code by researching and reaching out to food safety experts to get their professional thoughts on this vague topic.

When looking at food safety, we have several tools to pull from. We use HACCP to identify and prevent hazards that could cause food-borne illness in receiving, storing, preparing and serving of food. We have food safety courses to teach us all how to handle food and take corrective action when necessary. Thirdly, we have the FDA model food code, and under the section about sneeze guards, it says;

“3-306.11 Food Display. Except for nuts in the shell and whole, raw fruits and vegetables that are intended for hulling, peeling, or washing by the CONSUMER before consumption, FOOD on display shall be protected from contamination by the use of packaging; counter, service line, or salad bar food guards; display cases; or other effective means.”

Looking closely, the FDA food code mentions food on display for the consumer to access must be protected by guards, cases or other effective means. This is not the application with mobile meal service done by trained food service staff. Also, “or other effective means” allows for dialogue about what the food safety plan is in a healthcare community. The food code makes operators responsible for the protection of food from contaminants, which is broader than just using some plexiglass, and the perception that sneeze guards “solve it all.” It requires common sense and a plan to demonstrate to health inspectors that foodservice operators know what they're doing.

I reached out to Janet Anderberg, a Washington state health inspector. She shared that sneeze guards aren't mandatory, but what's more helpful is for a foodservice operator to have an active managerial control plan to show how food is protected. It is the responsibility of the food operator to know, communicate and demonstrate their food safety plan which could include:

    • Covering food with foil or lids during transportation (always recommended)
    • Not parking a mobile food cart under dripping pipes
    • Not traveling through bathrooms with a mobile food cart
    • Allowing trained foodservice staff to serve food and items (not the untrained public)
    • Keep a safe barrier of distance
    • Using roll dome covers or insert flip lids if desired
    • Using tongs versus touching food directly
    • Keeping food outside the temperature danger zone
    • Using gloves with ready-to-eat foods
    • Proper and frequent hand-washing
    • Not dragging sleeves through food
    • Temperature records pre- and post-meal service
    • If serving outside, protecting food from contaminates from above, like birds or trees
    • When serving food, only serve food and don’t do other tasks that can possibly contaminate the food

Nick Eastwood, President of Always Food Safe weighs in and states:

“Though sneeze guards can play a helpful role in protecting food, it has a limited use. They can be helpful in a self-serve buffet where we let the customer near food. It can help reduce physical contamination and also bacterial contamination from skin and hair. But apart from this, sneeze guards offer very little protection. In our Food Protection Manager course, we do not state that they are mandatory or state they must be in place. Instead, food safety is a combined effort and one needs to look at the total picture; the use of professionally trained staff, time and temperature control, avoiding cross contamination and personal hygiene are by far the most important points. From a food safety perspective, I have a very strong dislike to pre-plated food being served as time and temp abuse is one of the biggest threats to food safety. Bulk mobile service would allow for temperature control and quicker meal service.”

Colleen Zenk, Food Safety Instructor and ANFP speaker shares her thoughts:

“The [FDA] Food Code regarding sneeze guards is open to interpretation when it comes to food safety. Sneeze guards, food guards, breath guards are used to protect food from the consumer during self-service, but not mandated where foodservice personnel is doing the serving. The key issue is the staff education and training regarding how food is protected during transportation and service of food to ensure it is safe. Sometimes operators or inspectors take the easiest and least time-consuming approach when determining safety of food by looking at sneeze guards as the protection, as it saves time looking and verifying other requirements. This leads to the incorrect assumption they are mandatory. Instead operators should have a conversation with their surveyor or inspector and communicate their food safety plan, and this is helpful before one’s food service system is changed. It is important that the [FDA] Food Code is used as a guideline, and to check one’s local regulatory authority. Also, do not be afraid to have the conversation with a surveyor or inspector but develop a relationship that demonstrates that food safety is a priority.”

It's interesting to note that there's no scientific research showing that sneeze guards are actually effective - none can be located when a literature search was conducted. Dr. Peter Synder from the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management weighs in and states:

“There is no reference to a food-borne illness that has ever been prevented by a sneeze guard or caused by lack of a sneeze guard. There is no research about blocking sneezes with sneeze guards. The sneeze guard is something that a sanitarian invented in about 1945, when the first food code was written. Overall, a sneeze guard does not protect against food-borne illness.”

The sneeze guard topic is one of cultural perception and we all need to know what the FDA Food Code does (and doesn’t say), the science, apply common sense, while also implementing sound and safe food serving practices. We must think bigger and broader about our food safety plan in residential care settings. Therefore, to say “you must have a sneeze guard” is too much of a simple quick answer to a more complex situation. Also, it's very important to look at the application: mobile meal service conducted by trained food safe staff is a very different application than the general public helping themselves to food on display.

Finally, mobile meal service is working in hundreds of health care communities - whether it's snack carts, beverage service, dessert carts, or mobile hot food carts. Our industry is working hard at changing the culture to move away from sterile, institutional living to one that more closely reflects how we live in our own homes. So I ask: Do you use sneeze guards in your own home? Why do we apply a completely different set of rules in homes where seniors live?

When we look at potential food safety situations, let’s review the risks and how they could lead to food-borne illnesses. I believe that mobile meal service actually decreases the risk of food-borne illnesses because food is hotter and it's served immediately by trained foodservice staff. Cold trays of food aren't sitting for long periods of time until handed out. As an industry, let’s focus on choice, interaction, and self-determination of safe food. By protecting food in numerous different ways, we can create a more positive dining experience for residents.

A special thank you goes out to Janet Anderberg, Washington State Health Inspector, Nick Eastwood with Always Food Safe, Colleen Zenk, Food Safe Instructor/Speaker, and Dr. Peter Synder for their time and expertise on the sneeze guard topic.

About Suzanne Quiring:
Suzanne Quiring, RD, CDM, CFPP has worked in residential care for over 25 years and has her Continuing Care Administrator designation. She has assisted over 800 healthcare centers and improved their meal programs with tableside service. She is the inventor of the “SuzyQ Cart System” by Lakeside. She has spoken at conferences throughout North America and is passionate about self-directed dining.

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Solving Labor Challenges in Healthcare Foodservice with Pride

When staff members love what they do, residents and guests love what they do, too.

It seems kind of over-simplistic to say it like that, but nothing could be closer to the truth. When staff takes pride in their jobs, when they engage with residents in authentic and memorable ways, not only will residents be happier with the overall service level of the community, but staff members will be happier, as well.

Don't take our word for it, though. Here's what a few labor experts had to say:

According to Deloitte's Talent 2020 series, which surveyed 560 employees across several industries around the world, one of the top three engagement drivers for employment was the ability to do meaningful work.

The reality, though, is this statement is common sense. It's obvious that staff members who love what they do, who are the most engaged in the process and how to improve it, are the ones who are likely motivated by the fact their work matters. The question then becomes, how?

According to the MIT Sloan Management Review and a study led by Professor Catherine Bailey called "What Makes Work Meaningful -- or Meaningless," the answer is deeply personal and individual. What's the point of this job? It really depends on who you ask. There were some trends, though:

* Meaningful work tends to be associated with a wider contribution to society.

* Significant memories of family members when related to on-the-job experiences tended to result in feelings of worthfulness. Basically, there's a relationship between family and job satisfaction, between what's personal and what's work.

* Meaningful work is not planned. Rather, unexpected moments during the workday were often the most impactful.

How does this relate to healthcare foodservice and senior care communities?

The bottom line is meaningful work is personal, interpersonal, and unexpected. So how can we empower foodservice staff members to have those types of day-to-day experiences? By putting them in the right positions.

First, it's impossible to force our way into someone else's head. This makes personal, independent decisions about what's meaningful and what's impossible. The other two factors, though, are certainly doable.

How can senior care communities put staff in intimate situations that remind them of their own families? How can healthcare foodservice operators give team members the opportunities to have serendipitous experiences in their day-to-day tasks? By creating situations where staff members are around the residents.

In foodservice this means getting the team out of the four walls of the kitchen and into the dining room.  When staff members interact with their guests and a community can adopt a service approach to the dining experience, the work becomes more meaningful and more personal.  Have the staff interact directly with the residents, ask questions, and really actually talk to them!  This increases team engagement, staff retention, and resident satisfaction - it's a win-win-win!

Learn more and continue the conversation.

Take the dining experience quiz which only takes a few minutes to fill out.  Afterwards, you'll learn tips and tricks on where you can improve and you'll also have the opportunity to coordinate a call with Suzanne to discuss your results.

Contact Suzanne for her webinar, "Bringing Back CHOICE to Residents" where you'll learn how to:

  • Reduce high food waste by 30-50%
  • Serve significantly hotter food to residents
  • Eliminate multiple food preference lists to track and maintain
  • Improve customer service to residents
  • Improve overall meal satisfaction
  • Exceed CMS regulations and align with best practices (Pioneer Network, Eden Alternative)
  • Implement methods that are working in 800+ healthcare communities at all levels of care in North America

About Suzanne Quiring:
Suzanne Quiring, RD, CDM, CFPP has worked in residential care for over 25 years and has her Continuing Care Administrator designation. She has assisted over 800 healthcare centers and improved their meal programs with tableside service. She is the inventor of the “SuzyQ Cart System” by Lakeside. She has spoken at conferences throughout North America and is passionate about self-directed dining.

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What Is a Self-Determined Meal, and How It Will Help You with Resident Reviews?

It’s important to understand the importance of customer reviews and how foodservice impacts the overall score a healthcare center or senior community receives.

According to the Pioneer Network Dining Standards, not only does foodservice play a key role in optimizing well-being, it can have a direct impact on review scores. If people are happy with their living environment (and meals are a key focus!), then review scores and census results increase.

So what’s the easiest way to achieve better reviews?

Simple. Make your customers happy.

Meal times are some of our most cherished moments, not just for senior citizens, but for humans in general.

For our aging populations living in senior communities, this fact is even truer, though. With limited mobility or cognition, in many cases meals can break up the day and be moments of clarity, satisfaction, sociability and interest!

But what makes a meal interesting? How can operators make foodservice more engaging and fun? How can residents be empowered?

By allowing them to “self-determine” their meals. Self-determined meal service is basically another way to say choice.

Traditionally, pre-portioned meals are delivered to the table on domed plates. Also, food items and portion sizes are decided in the back-of-the-house based on perceived meal preference lists or in some cases medical needs.

Instead, self-determined meal service brings the selection process to the table, to be made by the guest.

If you stop and think about it, it’s a pretty logical concept, but most senior care communities don’t offer foodservice in this capacity. It's usually just tray service or pre-plated service. Here are the benefits that self-determined meal service offers:


When you have a style of meal service that allows for residents to choose the items and portions they want, they are more likely to eat more of the meal. Food is only nourishing if residents consume it. Therefore, when food is presented in a better way, there is improved intake, less risk of malnutrition, and better overall energy levels. A win for everyone!

Which brings us to another point…


Implementing a meal system that embraces choice makes residents happier, but in turn, staff members become more engaged with the people they serve. Meals become less like a chore and more like hospitality. In addition to talking to residents about the food selections, staff can also talk to them about what’s going on in their lives.

Bringing choice to the dining experience with engaged staff members not only results in happier residents, but staff members that feel empowered and that they’re actually making a difference in a resident’s life.

And speaking of empowerment…


When residents in a senior care community go to the doctor or receive medical care, it so often involves something they have to do. "You need to take this pill twice a day or you cannot do 'this or that' until your hip heals." The sad fact is choice is often taken away from us as we age.

This doesn’t have to be the case with meals, too. The most anticipated times of the day should be interesting and engaging, and residents should have a choice as to how they want to enjoy those times. Don’t feel like having the broccoli today? Opt for the asparagus instead, or choose no vegetable at all. Why plate a vegetable that a resident isn’t going to eat and will just get thrown out? Choice can be a different option, or choice can be the size of the serving, or choosing, “No, thank you.” Just providing that choice can make someone’s day and may just change their lives.

Is your community providing a truly self-directed experience? Are you enjoying the benefits listed above? We have an easy and free way for you to find out.

Take the dining experience quiz to see tips and tricks on where you can improve.

About The Author, Suzanne Quiring:
Suzanne Quiring, RD, CDM, CFPP has worked in residential care for over 25 years and has her Continuing Care Administrator designation. She has assisted over 800 healthcare centers and improved their meal programs with tableside service. She is the inventor of the “SuzyQ Cart System” by Lakeside. She has spoken at conferences throughout North America and is passionate about self-directed dining.

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Language and Culture Change: Are You Still Using the “F” Word at Work?

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter–’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” - Mark Twain

To be honest, I didn’t realize how the power of my everyday words negatively impacted an institution where I worked. Now, on reflection, I’m actually embarrassed by my new-found knowledge, but I take heart from an Oprah quote: “When we know better, we do better.”

My challenge now to myself, and I hope my fellow colleagues working in Health Care Communities, is to constantly perform a language check-up.

Recently, there’s been a great deal of research done on how our choice of words impacts our work environment and directly influences our behavior. Other workplaces have had to change their language usage. For example, prisons are now Correctional Centers, stewardesses are now flight attendants, dietary is now culinary services. Likewise, our words in Residential Care need to be reflective of what we want to offer, which is a more normal and home-like atmosphere. Often traditional nursing homes represent a culture that needs changing, and changed language needs to be an integral part of it.

Nancy Fox wrote in her book, “The Journey of a Lifetime: Leadership Pathways to Culture Change in Long-Term Care,” that “our entire industry has developed a language that is demeaning and depersonalizing both of the Elders we serve and the hands-on staff who care for them. What we know is that language can and does influence us. Language is a powerful tool. When used in a positive way, it can inspire people. When used negatively, it can hurt. But when it becomes a part of a culture and is simply mindless, that is when we speak the words without understanding their impact, it is dangerous. When we awaken to the fact that this kind of language has seeped into our culture and is now actually driving our attitudes and beliefs, we can begin to change our language to shape a new culture." (p. 82)

“When we know better, we do better.” - Oprah Winfrey

There are also some excellent points made in the paper titled, “The Power of Language to Create Culture,” by Bowman, Ronch, and Madjaroff, (2016), which encourage us all to consider our choice of words.

Here's a quick summary of some of their topics that I found most helpful. To help us change our language, here are some practical suggestions:

•  Purchase laminated cards, the size of a business card from The Institute for Caregiver Education for staff team members. These cards say “Language is the key to the soul. Because of this, it is important to choose our words carefully. To help transform our “facility” into a true community, try using the following:

          1.  Use "Home" or "Community" instead of facility.
          2.  Address and refer to people by name, not diagnosis or job function.
          3.  Avoid excessive medical terminology when talking to residents or co-workers without a clinical background.
          4.  Don’t just bark orders. Try to explain the "why" of what you are asking for.
          5.  Think “Equalize Everyone."

•  Create a group of leaders to use examples of the new language – allow them to be the “teachers” who get it and can give feedback in a respectful way. Learning new beliefs and a new way of talking takes time. Be patient but clear.

•  The best way for a person to learn a new language is to speak it. Leaders need to encourage people to use the new language so it becomes automatic.

•  Instead of Director of Dietary, maybe change to Culinary Services Team Leader

•  Leaders and teachers need to keep reminding people that learning a new language requires three kinds of knowledge to take hold:

          1.  know it (facts/information)
          2.  know why (motivations and beliefs)
          3.  know how (the new words/concepts/language are spoken) to become dominant.

•  When you hear language that dishonors people in communities, be on the lookout for opportunities to reframe someone’s experience so that their beliefs and language can be changed. Reframing means to change the way we interpret or give meaning to an event, so when a person in a nursing home is called “resistant,” reframe it to “making a choice”

•  The best strategy of all: use it, use it and then use it some more. Changing language and culture take time and concerted effort so giving people a new vocabulary list is just one part of the job, but following through and accountability are critical. Empower the team to make it happen and that everyone is responsible for accountability. (Ronch, 2003)

healthcare language choice

Please do check in with yourself. Listen to the care partners at your workspace. Be an example. Make others accountable. Changing culture means changing our language. So, do you need to stop saying the “F word?”? Facility, that is.

Are you saying the right things in your community? Are you creating a home-like atmosphere? Take our quiz to find out where you can improve.

Reach out to Suzanne to set up a webinar all about "Bringing Back CHOICE to Residents" where you'll learn how to:

  • Reduce high food waste by 30-50%
  • Serve significantly hotter food to residents
  • Eliminate multiple food preference lists to track and maintain
  • Improve customer service to residents
  • Improve overall meal satisfaction
  • Exceed CMS regulations and align with best practices (Pioneer Network, Eden Alternative)
  • Implement methods that are working in 800+ healthcare communities at all levels of care in North America

About Suzanne Quiring:
Suzanne Quiring, RD, CDM, CFPP has worked in residential care for over 25 years and has her Continuing Care Administrator designation. She has assisted over 800 healthcare centers and improved their meal programs with tableside service. She is the inventor of the “SuzyQ Cart System” by Lakeside. She has spoken at conferences throughout North America and is passionate about self-directed dining.