Giving a Voice Back to the Residents: An Interview with HHS Senior Living President Keith O’Neill
Posted on September 28, 2016
Keith O’Neill has more than three decades of experience in the foodservice and healthcare industries, both as an executive and as a registered dietician. He initially joined HHS in 2010 to launch the HHS Culinary service line. After establishing the culinary program in acute care, he took on the new challenge of building a culinary and EVS program specifically for senior living communities as President of HHS Senior Living.
“A lot of people don’t realize just how different the acute care and senior living sectors really are,” says O’Neill, “and I have to admit, I felt the same way before I began working in this sector.”
“In acute care, you might have a patient for four days and they’re only going to eat a few meals, and it might be special diet, and then they’re gone,” O’Neill explains. “In senior living, the residents are there, theoretically, for the rest of their lives, and food is often a highlight of the day.”
“The residents are accustomed to having things one way, and if you change something or don’t do it right you’re going to hear about it times 10,” O’Neill warns.
“It’s easy to complain about the food when you’re eating three meals a day in the dining hall and you don’t have any input into what you’re being served.”
To combat some of these challenges, HHS Senior Living has put programs in place to give a voice back to the residents. Before beginning a new account, O’Neill himself, or one of the Vice Presidents he oversees, will sit down with the resident committee at each new community partner. “I think it’s a very unique process we have,” says O’Neill, “the fact that we use open forums and we solicit opinions and advice from the residents themselves. If we have red snapper on the menu but you prefer cod, then we’ll change it to cod. We even get feedback from on how they’d like to see the dining hall designed. This gives us an opportunity to get buy in by the resident council committee on the changes we’re making, so that we know that we’re going in the right direction.”
“Our attitude is: It’s your food and your dining area, and we want you to love it,” O’Neill explains.
Getting feedback from the residents doesn’t stop once HHS Senior Living’s programs are in place. Throughout the course of a partnership, HHS Senior Living gives residents the opportunity to share their favorite recipes and see them tested out in the kitchen. “If a resident has a special recipe or a food item they love, we ask them to let us know,” says O’Neill. “If you have a chicken salad recipe that you love and you’ve been making for 50 years, give us the recipe and let’s try it out and see if everyone else loves it, too.”
Philosophically we understand that each partner we work with is different, which is why HHS Senior Living provides more opportunities to personalize programs and menus for each unique community. HHS Senior Living begins with a base menu and brings it to the resident committee to get their take on local likes and dislikes. Additionally, HHS Senior Living staffs executive chefs in each partnerships so that they can continue developing and customizing the menu offerings to fit local preferences.
“The way I look at it, we’re cooks in their house; we’re the visiting chef, and we want to do right by them,” says O’Neill.
“I put myself in their shoes and I know that I would have a hard time if I didn’t have any control over what I was eating,” he continues, “and that’s why we do what we can to engage the residents and give them opportunities to take back some of that control.”
Keith O’Neill has more than three decades of experience in the foodservice and healthcare industries as both an executive and as a registered dietitian. As President of Senior Living, O’Neill works closely with HHS’ partners to develop and deliver the highest quality culinary and hospitality programs available in the Senior Living and long-term care arenas. In 2010, O’Neill teamed up with HHS to launch HHS Culinary, with the goal of getting back to his foodservice roots and providing healthy, locally sourced, high-quality dining options to the healthcare industry.
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