The Food Service Assistant is the unsung hero of an aged care home and often an undervalued member of the team. The chefs and food preparation staff busily prepare thousands of meals to the liking of their residents. They have to reach food & hygiene standards and tailor each meal in accordance with the medical conditions, allergies and food preferences of the resident (or what their family think they may like). But today I want to talk about the food service assistant (FSA) who prepares and serves the meals and delivers them to resident’s rooms. They prepare the tables for each meal and also retrieve all the dirty dishes and trays.
What many people don’t know is how pivotal their role is in the aged care system. They are that extra pair of eyes and ears in the dining room and often are the first people to spot an accident, a fall, a fight or trouble. A switched on FSA knows all the ‘fine details’ about a resident. They more than likely know the following:
- what food they like or dislike and how much to serve
- how to assist the resident to eat
- the habits and subtle eating/health changes of residents (eg swallowing ability)
- when a resident goes off their food or stops eating or drinking
- dangerous situations (eg cutlery with unstable residents)
- whether the resident is unwell
- when trouble is about to start between residents
- foresee safety issues before accidents occur
- the hygiene habits/standards of residents
If I was employing staff for an aged care home, this person would be someone I would really take my time over during staff selection. They have to have a friendly and caring personality as they are the people the residents are interacting with so often. The meal time is the highlight of the day for most aged care residents and it needs to be a pleasant experience. The ambience of the room is often dictated by the food service assistant. If they are like the ‘Soup Nazi’ off Seinfeld then the room reacts accordingly. I have seen people like this and their rapport with residents is terrible and eventually they hate their jobs, receive complaints and eventually leave their jobs. On the other hand I have seen amazing FSA staff who are bubbly and fun and they are the ‘heartbeat of the dining room’ and when they are on shift everyone has a great time.
As a carer and family member I always create a rapport with the kitchen staff and chat with them every morning. I want to hear what is happening in the ward, who needs some extra attention (they may be agitated or upset), find out if Bob has eaten his meal and even ask what mood he is in before I open his door. The FSA has insight into every resident’s current position and I would go to them if I needed fast info on my loved one. They are moving in and out of rooms regularly and know the status of each person. They and are often belted or having their lovingly prepared meals thrown on the floor, or thrown at them.
The FSA is someone who needs a gift at xmas time to remind them that they are valued and doing a great job. They are often treated like a complaints department and have to listen to negative people whinge and complain on nearly every shift they work. I know if I was in a nursing home I would want the FSA to like me and look after me. (and give me that extra piece of crumbed chicken).
I suggest you watch the kitchen staff when you next visit an aged care home and you may be surprised at how valuable they are and what contribution they make to the aged care experience. Bravo!