Hospital Dining Services Allow Seniors to Age-in-Place

By Kent Hamaker posted 04-04-2018 13:43

Self-Operated Hospital Foodservices go Beyond Hospital Walls to Serve the Community

(April 3, 2018) — More than 5 million older Americans face hunger every day—a devastating reality for millions of seniors who hope to remain in their homes as they age. Luckily, they have many allies who enable them to live safely. As hospitals expand their role from acute care to community care, many are tapping their self-operated hospital food service departments to bring food and comfort to seniors in their communities to ensure they remain healthy, connected, and independent.

“As hospitals’ responsibilities widen to maintaining the health of the population, food service departments are taking a larger role in supporting community health in addition to providing in-hospital meals,” said David Reeves, president of the Association for Healthcare Foodservice. “Self-operated food service departments have flexibility to step up to this role and to address community needs as they arise.”

A study released Monday in the April issue of Health Affairs shows that delivering healthy meals to low-income seniors and disabled younger people resulted in fewer emergency visits and lower medical spending than a similar group of people who did not receive meal deliveries.

Hendricks Regional Health in Danville, Indiana, provides daily meals to more than 130 senior citizens through the local Meals on Wheels program. Hendricks Regional Health serves as a contractor that prepares nutritious meals for Hendricks County Meals on Wheels at cost. Beyond that, more than 60 daily meals are prepared and available at the local senior center for those that are active.  

“As an independent community health system with a self-operated food service, we have the flexibility to support organizations and programs such as Hendricks County Senior Services and Meals on Wheels that share in our mission and vision,” said Kevin P. Speer, Hendricks Regional Health President & CEO. “Providing healthy, balanced meals to seniors improves their quality of life and helps them stay in their homes.”

“This program is absolutely wonderful because it allows people to stay in their homes—in the homes that they love, where they feel comfortable,” said Martha Rardin, MS, RD, CD, FAND, director of nutrition and dietetics at Hendricks Health and president-elect of the Association for Healthcare Foodservice. “And because we’re able to make sure that they’re nourished, we can help them remain independent and happy.”

According to AARP, 87 percent of adults 65 and older want to stay in their homes and communities. Unfortunately, limitations such as transportation, money, and physical disabilities can make it difficult—or even dangerous—for older Americans to live independently. Programs offered by hospital foodservice departments make independence a reality for many.

Not only do self-operated healthcare food service departments provide nourishment, they give seniors more control in their daily lives and foster a sense of community. For instance, Legacy Retirement Communities in Lincoln, Nebraska, offers a Social Membership to seniors outside of their facilities to share a meal, use their fitness center or attend social events for free. They also allow guests of residents their facility to come and dine with others for a very small fee.

“We are especially proud of this service because it provides a sense of community and nurtures friendships for those who live alone,” said Robert Darrah, director of Legacy Retirement Communities. “People often forget how lonely it can be for seniors who live at home on their own. Allowing them to get out and dine with friends can make a real positive impact in their lives.”

Additionally, Indianapolis-based Eskenazi Health works with Meals on Wheels of Central Indiana to prepare food for seniors that they order using a “take-out menu” approach. Meals prepared in Eskenazi Health’s kitchen provide a wide selection of pre-portioned frozen meals available for custom ordering by Meals on Wheels participants —giving seniors a choice in what they eat.

“Older Americans who choose to age in place want to live autonomously in their homes. Providing them more options and a choice in their meals every day gives them more power and control in their daily lives,” said Thomas Thaman, director of food and nutrition at Eskenazi Health. “We’re proud that as a self-operated hospital food service we can help provide more than a meal.”

Self-operated hospital food service departments are involved in hundreds of community programs across the country, supporting population health goals of hospitals and health systems while also contributing to patient satisfaction ratings in the hospital setting.


About Association for Healthcare Foodservice

The Association for Healthcare Foodservice (AHF) is the premier organization for self-operated healthcare food management professionals. AHF is governed by its members and exists to serve its members. The association is dedicated to keeping foodservice departments self-operated, in-house, and homemade. For more, visit