Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Critical Factors in the Successful Utilization of Senior Center Meals

Academic journal article Care Management Journals

Critical Factors in the Successful Utilization of Senior Center Meals

Article excerpt

In Fall 2004, the Commissioner of the NYC Department for the Aging (DFTA), Edwin Méndez-Santiago, charged his director of Organization Development and Training, Robert Stephens, to identify the reasons why some senior centers were meeting or exceeding their projected utilization of meals and others were not. The study that Mr. Stephens, his staff, and others at DFTA conducted proceeded in three phases. The principle fi ndings of the study on factors critical to the successful utilization of senior center meals are these:

* Leadership-particularly by the center director-is central to the successful utilization of a center's meals.

* To create a successfully utilized senior center, the center leadership must be profoundly committed to, and adept at, creating and maintaining a community for the center members-both current and potential.

* The center's sponsor plays a crucial role in sustaining center growth over time , in part by establishing high performance standards and monitoring consistently for their achievement.

* It is possible to increase meals utilization-even at seriously underutilized centers faced with diffi culties such as poor geographic location, less-than-ideal physical plant, and competition from other nearby centers.

In the fi nal phase of the study, a group of centers were examined that had successfully turned around their meals utilization from underutilized to full, or greater than full, utilization. That examination identifi ed common, and replicable, practices that had promoted the utilization turnaround. Figure 1 depicts the practices that were identifi ed.

THE STUDY

This section details the study begun in the fall of 2004 to identify the reasons why some NYC Department for the Aging (DFTA)-funded senior centers were meeting or exceeding their projected utilization of meals and others were not. This study was conducted by DFTA staff at the behest of the commissioner of the Department for the Aging. The study was conducted in three phases.

Phase 1

The search for the critical factors infl uencing senior center meals utilization began with three focus group meetings. All of the directors of DFTA-funded senior centers that had achieved 100% or more of their projected meals utilization in Fiscal Year 2004 were invited to attend these group interviews (contact the lead author to obtain a list of those who participated ). The focus group interviews were followed by visits to some of the high-performing centers, during which individual and group discussions were held with staff and members of these centers.

Directors in the focus group interviews were asked several open-ended questions to explore their understanding of why their centers were fully achieving their meals goals when the majority of DFTA-funded centers were not. Several variables and their relative impact on meals utilization were examined with the directors of the high-performing centers. The variables explored included:

* Quality of the meals

* Location of the center in the neighborhood and its proximity to/availability of public transportation

* Amount of physical space in the center and its condition

* Involvement or lack thereof of the center's sponsor

* Role and quality of the center's management staff

* Amount and type of center programming

* Number of other centers in the neighborhood

* Amount and quality of collaboration with other service providers in the center's community

* Type and amount of outreach and marketing efforts

These group interviews provided valuable insights into the major factors infl uencing meals utilization, but also demonstrated the need for further exploration.

Phase 2

In February 2005, the study turned to the exploration of the impact of 10 additional variables on increasing or decreasing senior center meals utilization. The 10 variables that were examined in this phase (Phase 2) of the study were:

* Whether meals were prepared on-site or catered

* Whether founding center members were still active and in positions of leadership

* Whether the center was part of a larger organization or a stand-alone center

* The percentage of seniors who were living in poverty in the center's surrounding community

* The director's length of employment in her/his position

* Whether the director was employed by the center prior to becoming a director,

* The director's experience working with seniors prior to becoming director

* The educational level of the director

* The amount of training the director had received since appointment

* The director's salary

In addition, the variable of how facilities at highly utilized centers compared to those of underutilized centers that was explored in Phase 1 of the study was examined in greater depth in this phase. …

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