Healthcare operators value all-day 'snackisfaction'

March 28, 2017

Hospitals, long-term facilities cater to consumer demands for all-day snack opportunities.

Making snacks available to healthcare patients, residents, employees, visitors and guests isn’t just a thoughtful gesture. In many cases it’s also a good nutritional practice. What’s more, as snacking becomes the norm for more Americans — accounting for 35 percent of all eating occasions, according to The NPD Group’s market research — it’s a logical step toward making patients and senior living facility residents feel more at home.

Healthcare operators value all-day 'snackisfaction'

Hospital and long-term care facility foodservice directors understand the important role food plays in the residents’ overall experience; so, too, do their clients. According to a recent report from Datassential, nearly three-quarters of consumers who stayed in a healthcare facility in the last year had their choice of where to receive care, and 60 percent of them considered the food options when making that decision.

Snacks are likely to take on more importance in light of recent federal rules affecting 1,500 long-term care facilities which participate in Medicare and Medicaid. The rules give residents more say in when and what they eat. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services regulations, residents can opt for “alternative meals and snacks… at nontraditional times or outside of scheduled meal times.” The goal is to improve the quality of care and give residents more control over their care.

As Americans increasingly opt for all-day snacking over three full meals, providing alternatives makes sense from a patient satisfaction standpoint. In hospitals patients may not be awake or available when meals are delivered, or may simply not enjoy the food provided, especially if it varies from the way they eat at home. But snacks — particularly familiar brands — can provide welcome relief as well as a sense of control in a setting where patients otherwise have very little control.

In long-term care and senior living settings, bedtime snacks are the norm. But more operators are finding that making snacks available throughout the day is an effective strategy to combat malnourishment, dehydration and unintended weight loss. Some 14 percent of patients in nursing facilities are malnourished, according to a study reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Malnourished patients or residents are at greater risk for infections, poor wound healing, pressure sores, immune deficiency, anemia and other health threats. Weight loss in dementia patients is thought to accelerate mental decline as well.

Vermilion Cliffs, a dementia care skilled nursing component of the Beatitudes Campus continuing care community in Phoenix, makes snacks and more substantial food available to residents when they want to eat, around the clock. The Comfort Matters program, as it’s called, has virtually eliminated weight loss typically seen in memory support units and has resulted in a happier clientele.

“We stopped looking at what was a balanced meal and started giving people food that they want, when they want it. We’re taking our cues from the people we serve,” Beatitudes director of education and research Tena Alonzo told the National Institute on Aging. Because of that flexibility, residents eat when they actually have an appetite.

Since dehydration is a common problem among long-term-care residents, salty snacks can do double duty, upping the calorie intake to maintain weight and encouraging fluid intake, according to recommendations by the Illinois Council on Long Term Care.

Healthcare facilities handle distribution of snacks differently. Many hospitals assign volunteers to visit patient rooms with snack- and beverage-laden carts. Evening snacks at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania Hospital, for example, arrive on a cart which is wheeled through the medical, surgical and maternity floors. Others that follow a room service ordering model allow patients to request snack delivery by phone. Some hospitals install vending machines throughout the facility. At Nebraska Methodist Health System hospitals, each floor maintains a nurse-managed nourishment station to provide snacks when patients request them.

Bottled and canned beverages and portion-controlled snack packs are logical choices in a healthcare setting. They are convenient and don’t require special handling or refrigeration.

Snacks aren’t just for patients. Hospital visitors often forget to eat or don’t have time to eat a proper meal — especially those with young children undergoing procedures. As a courtesy, Akron Children’s Hospital in Akron, Ohio, operates a Parent Courtesy Cart for families with children staying at the hospital. Volunteers visit the pediatric floor and special care nursery with juice, coffee and snacks for families. Similar programs are in effect at Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

Whether it’s a patient recovering from surgery, a senior in assisted living or loved ones visiting either, snacks provide a welcome and essential amenity for healthcare clients.