Preparing for the unexpected in Health and Aged Care

Wednesday, 29 April, 2020

Whether you're in Healthcare or Aged Care, a business continuity plan plus robust food safety and cleaning practices are key to minimising food service impacts on your facility during this time of COVID-19.

IHHC, Healthcare, Aged Care, COVID-19, Pandemic in Aged Care

The IHHC and their advice

In support of healthcare hospitality during COVID-19, the IHHC have run a series of online sessions on how to best prepare your healthcare food services.

Accredited Practicing Dietitians and Food Service experts Denise Cruickshank (Coordinator, Queensland Health’s State Wide Food Services) and Bianca Guthrie, (Senior Food Service Dietitian at Fiona Stanley Hospital Perth) outline practice considerations for business continuity planning for healthcare food services. Below we have done the hard work for you and summarised their key practice points. However, to hear exactly what these highly qualified and experienced experts have to say, listen to the online recording at the IHHC education hub.

See the below stages of how you can plan during this time.

Business continuity planning

Maintaining business as usual for as long as possible requires planning for contingencies and a business continuity plan should cover four stages to be most effective:

Stage 1
Your service will continue with business as usual at this stage however the opportunity at this time is to plan and engage with staff making sure your business plans and documentation are up to date. This stage is the time to identify and plan for issues that may arise:

  Identify key staff and who may replace them if they get sick

  • Recruit casual staff if needed
  • Orientate and provide mandatory training to new staff now so they can start without delay if the time comes
  • Identify training for existing staff who may need to cover additional roles during staff shortages

Understand your food and chemical supply chains

  • Check with suppliers regarding their own continuity/contingency plans
  • Identify access to portion control food items that you may need in later stages
  • Is your texture modified meal supply safe?
  • Will your chemical supply be continuous? What are your suppliers contingency plans?
  • Do you need a supply of disposable cutlery and crockery for later stages? If so source a supplier

Identify alternatives or back ups to your menu processing system

  • If it is electronic will it still be supported at later stages?
  • What will the alternative be if menus can’t be processed due to staff shortages or the menu system goes down?
  • Plan a reduced menu that can be rolled out should staffing or menu processing become compromised. Consider what it might involve ie reduced menu choices, frozen meals or portion-controlled meals
  • Ensure any alternative menu or food items have been scrutinised for allergens
  • Identify what your need for therapeutic diets will be

Consider your alternate model of service delivery when staffing becomes short

  • Will you revert to a default menu or will meals be offered by trolley selection?

Establish good communication channels with all team members including nursing.

  • This is key at every stage including constant reminders to staff about hygiene and social distancing expectations - see links below for specific guidance on this

Stage 2
This stage is marked by the beginnings of staff shortages, it is a time when communication is crucial to ensure everyone is working towards what may be a new normal but you can still maintain business as usual. This stage is also a time to:

  • Complete the training of casuals and other staff replacements and incorporate integration into the roster for on the job training and observation
  • Finalise your alternative menu plans so they are ready to implement once necessary, particularly uptake into IT systems where necessary
  • Maintain communication, particularly with nursing around plans for changes to service delivery along with emphasis on reminders about distancing, personal hygiene, cleaning and personal protective equipment (PPE) etc

Stage 3

By this stage plans are being implemented and management is focused on staffing and service delivery

  • Casuals and replacements will be part of the roster with some non-essential processes being dropped – what these may be will be site specific
  • Your model of service delivery may be in the process of changing. It may be staged or implemented as a whole
  • Alternate menus are being implemented
  • Communications continue to be maintained to ensure everyone is aware of change

Healthcare, COVID-19, Aged Care

Stage 4

By this stage staff shortages are significant and in hospitals patient numbers may be increasing. At this point an alternate model of service delivery is required because staffing is insufficient to maintain business as usual.

  • Menu processing may be ceased and a default menu in place or meals by trolley selection at ward or room level
  • Only essential therapeutic diets are produced eg texture modified, gluten free, allergen free, vegetarian
  • Communication is vital at this stage to ensure everyone is aware of process changes

Healthcare, COVID-19, Aged Care

Additional considerations:

How will your facility manage service delivery if the kitchen needs to be shut down for decontamination/cleaning in the event of an outbreak among kitchen staff?

  • Who will do the cleaning – internal or external contractors?         
  • What is your offsite meal plan? Off site kitchen or alternative location onsite
  •  Back up staffing – what plans are in place to replace those on 14 days of self-isolation

Staff PPE

  • Who needs it, when is it worn and how much do you need?

Returned trays for those patients/residents who are infectious

  • Automatic dishwashers are suitable but consider at what point in the clean-up process these items are dealt with
  • What PPE should be used for clean-up of these items?

Extra Resources

Australian Government Department of Health has up-to-date information and advice for COVID-19 for the health and aged care sector

The New Zealand Ministry of Health COVID-19 information hub

To update your food safety and corrective actions processes visit the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Novel Coronavirus and Food Safety Page.

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