Meet the man working to change the dining experience for the residents of TriCare’s aged care services.
As part of our continuing series introducing you to the TriCare team, we are pretty excited to introduce you to Blake Johnston. Blake leads our food services team, and by lead we mean, inspires, challenges, develops and creates an exceptional team of professionals who are committed to improving the quality and delivery of food services for our residents. To Blake, this isn’t just a job, it’s a passion for excellence and a drive to re-engineer how food is not only delivered in aged care but thought about, created and experienced by our customer, the resident.
We spent some time speaking with Blake about his role and his present and future goals and this is what he had to say.
Tell us about your role at TriCare.
Firstly, you have to know that I love it, it’s challenging, but I love it.
In day to day terms my role is to build a first class team of food service professionals within each of our residences who share TriCare’s vision for delivering fresh, creative, nutritious and delicious food for our residents. This means supporting our staff to move beyond traditional models of food delivery to services that are reflective of the things our residents like to eat and that also meet their particular requirements be they health or lifestyle related.
At the moment I am concentrating on building the team that will deliver this vision. The recruitment process for our chefs is rigorous and rightly so, because we only want people who really understand quality food delivery and who are committed to being a part of the aged care industry. They need to lead the change within their own services and kitchens, they are ultimately responsible for every dish that leaves their kitchen and therefore I am working hard to make sure that everyone in the food services team is 100% on board with the changes we are making.
Together with specialist dieticians I am also creating menus and sourcing the best quality ingredients from our fresh food suppliers for use in our residences. This also means that there is an on-going program of training and support for our Chef Managers and their teams to make sure we get this right.
You could say that I am busy at the moment, but the changes we have seen so far make the late hours and the challenges worth it.
What attracted you to the Aged Care industry?
Look, there is a perception out there about how food is delivered in aged care. I just knew there was a better way, a different way of thinking about managing and delivery food services for older Australians in residential care.
I just really wanted to affect a positive change for residents of residential aged care. I thought I can lead the change I want to see, so I took a leap of faith, had my plan ready and found a great aged care provider who were ready to step up their food services and they gave me the brief I wanted… to re-position food services in TriCare to meet the real needs and expectations of our residents.
How do you ensure you are meeting the dining expectations of your residents?
I am really aware of how important food services are to our residents. Dining is more than just the food it’s about the opportunities for social interactions between residents that are created as they dine that are enhanced by the quality of the food being offered. Not only does the food itself offer a topic of discussion between residents, but the ambiance created in the way in which it is presented and delivered also promotes better social discourse. Take for example, one our Chef Managers who routinely travels between dining rooms, within his residence preparing food in front of residents on sizzler plates. I mean this is what creates the experience, this creates conversation and the residents love the intimate interaction and the show. It remains a talking point for residents well after the meal has finished and when we hear those conversations we know we are on the right track.
Of course we also encourage all of our residents to provide direct feedback via resident meetings which I attend when possible, and from our feedback forms, which are available to residents in every dining room. Believe me, our residents are not shy in letting us know how they feel and we are happy to hear about it. We cannot fix what we do not know about.
What is the most valuable lesson you have learned during your career in aged care?
Listen to your residents. Make sure you have good open two way communication in place with your team and most of all, don’t be afraid to try new things.
What things are you working on right now that you are excited about?
Probably the biggest thing I am working on right now is building the team and making sure we get the communication happening. We have introduced a newsletter which circulates around our Chef Managers and this not only shares information but also has led to some collaborative innovations in our food services… we are kind of bouncing off each other in print if you want to think of it that way. I do see though, that a big part of my role as we roll out the changes is in making sure those people who are at the frontline of our services are well supported and well informed.
The other thing I am working on is in introducing grazing platters for our dementia residents. This approach is well documented in the research and gets away from the distress some of our residents with dementia can feel when they are locked into eating meals in a more formal way at a table setting. This is person centred in every sense of the word and responds well to ensuring this resident cohort continue to eat and to eat well.
On top of that we have also rolled out, at three of our residences so far, a breakfast buffet trolley. The trolley offers residents a selection of breakfast items which are offered in the resident’s room. We really want to get away from the pre plated tray with the items on it we think our residents want. We are giving our residents choice and control over their meals and so far this has been very well received.
Lastly, I am working on creating a whole of organisation culture around food services and driving the difference TriCare wants to be in valuing and respecting our residents.
Finally, what beliefs sit behind how you approach your work?
I believe we all should ‘be the change we want to see’. In other words, if you want things to improve then be that person who makes the change. Do it from the inside, work beside people and keep going til you get there.. oh and don’t expect instant success.. change takes time.