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Scott Meldahl takes his cooking very seriously. He is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Minneapolis. He’s been master of the kitchen in some of Minnesota’s most popular restaurants. And he has his sights set on becoming a contestant on Chopped, the hit reality competition show on the Food Network.

But most importantly, Meldahl is the chef at Pioneer Care in Fergus Falls, serving up meals that are made mostly from scratch, using fresh local ingredients. This might come as surprise to people who have misconceptions about the food at a senior living community. Boring and bland? Absolutely not.

Scott was kind enough to share more about how he is leading the charge for high quality dining experience for the older adults he serves:

Scott Meldahl, chef at PioneerCare

What made you decide to learn to be a chef?
When I was 15, I had my first job and it was in a restaurant washing dishes. Eventually as I was able to learn the cooking side, I grew to take great pride in being able to make a customer’s day, even if it was for only a half-hour, by giving them a delicious meal.

It was that feeling of providing a bright spot in someone’s day, that creating of a memory that drove me to grow my skills and push forward in this career choice.

How did you end up at PioneerCare?
Two years ago, my wife had finished her Master’s degree and we were in Duluth at the time. A job opened up over in Fergus Falls, so we decided to check out this side of the state and moved.

One day I was looking for work, and there was an ad for PioneerCare, I had a 2+ hour interview and that sealed it for me, I knew there was a reason I was brought here.

I bet there are a lot of misconceptions about what the food is like at a senior living community.
I truly hope that the misconceptions are changing! I think many people think of hospital food when it comes to senior living. More often than not, eyes widen a bit and smiles grow a bit more when people hear about the food we provide and the lengths we go to provide a great quality product utilizing as much fresh local product as possible.

It isn’t easy and we work very hard to do as much scratch food as possible, but I think that knowing and being able to tell someone exactly what is in the food that they are eating is extremely important.

With all the emphasis on childhood obesity and the foods that schools are serving, I believe we should also be exploring what goes into the foods our aging community is being served when they move into senior housing. Fresh and natural is always better and should be our goal.

Would you be willing to share a recipe?
Of course I would! Here’s a recipe for BBQ Brisket. {Warning, this will feed a lot of people! You’ll want to adjust the recipe for a smaller crowd.}

How is it different (or not different) being the chef at PioneerCare vs. at some of the other restaurants you’ve worked in?
Comparing PioneerCare to restaurants is tough, because in some ways, they are so very different. We have one main choice for each meal (plus an alternate choice), so you know right away that not everyone will always be pleased, and that is sometimes difficult to deal with.

You still strive for every meal to make your customer base happy no matter where you work, but they are living here, so you are cooking basically in the people’s home. I think that brings an added pressure that isn’t there when people are coming to your establishment to eat. It feels at times that roles are almost reversed.

It is a thrilling experience, one that I wouldn’t change.

Thank you, Scott, for taking time to share your story with Aging Services – and for all you do serve older adults!

If you work in the field of aging services and ever wonder whether you’re really making a difference, this story is for you.

A few weeks ago, a team of amazing people from Presbyterian Homes & Services joined hundreds of Aging Services members for three days of face-to-face advocacy at the State Capitol in St. Paul.

Brandi Barthel, Care Center Administrator at The Gables of Waverly Gardens, shared this moving story about the connection her team shared during their time at the Capitol. It is a powerful reminder of what it means to care for another person’s loved one – the gratitude that people have for this important and honorable work.

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Brandi writes:

It starts with a connection.

As we were waiting for our appointment with Senator Goodwin, her Legislative Assistant Billie Ball approached me and said “Bambi?” I looked at her with a moment of confusion.  It was then I remembered she was a family member of a past resident that resided at our Johanna Shores Memory Care Household.

I stood with excitement as the tears flowed down her face.  We shared the memories of her father who had passed away two years ago. She went back to her desk to grab a picture of her father dressed in his Sunday best wearing a hat and a big smile on his face.

This picture was taken during the “glamour shots” activity that we hosted while he lived at Johanna Shores. She said it was one of her favorite pictures of her dad and had it proudly displayed on her desk.

She stopped to show others who walked by the picture of her loving and happy father who embraced the staff of Johanna Shores as family just as we embraced him as our family.  And as families do, we continued to reminisce about everything that made him unique and special.

One of her other fond memories was the “beer and the boys” activity that was inspired and requested by her father. We laughed about how her dad insisted we serve “the real stuff” and how even living in our community he was still the “patriarch of our family.”

You can imagine how this inspired us as we were waiting to speak with Senator Goodwin about the much needed funding for our long term care employees and residents.

When our appointment time arrived, she introduced us to Senator Goodwin as the team that cared for her father and she was so grateful for what we do.  As we met with the Senator, we shared this story and she was compassionate towards our efforts to increase Long Term Care funding.

It was because of the caring staff at Johanna Shores and many other facilities that lovingly embrace the residents that make the positive lasting impressions on families that choose to place their loved ones in our care.

Reminiscing on those times that he shared with us at Johanna Shores reminds us why we have devoted our lives to this industry.  Our nursing assistants and nurses make that happen each day for very little more than a thank you followed by a sincere smile from those that we care for.

But unfortunately this is not enough to pay the bills for these special staff.  The time has come that we must re-invest in the staff that care and make a difference to the parents and loved ones that supported us through our lives.

Our mission says we take in and love the most frail of our people.  It is up to us to ensure the staff that we count on to make these memories can afford to continue to serve, because we cannot afford to lose them.

That is why we stressed to Senator Goodwin not to forget Long Term Care in the Legislative session this year.  It is our front line care givers that need this funding to continue the loving support of our residents and families. Support us in making memories in years to come.

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Thank you, Brandi, for sharing this story. Because of your work, one more lawmaker knows just how important it is to support the caregivers who serve our loved ones.

We all know them – people who go above and beyond. They don’t just do their jobs, they seem to really like their jobs. They go out of their way to make someone else’s day better.

In the field of older adult services, these are not the faces and stories that make the front page of the newspaper – but they should.

So here at Aging Services, we’re trying something new. We created the Stars Among Us campaign to shine a light on the people who are the backbone of our support system for seniors. We want to celebrate the difference you make in the lives of those you serve and the contributions you make in your community.

To participate in the Stars Among Us campaign, simply tell us:

  • What inspires you to serve older adults? Is there a mentor or fellow caregiver who motivates or helps you? What keeps you going on tough days?
  • What does a career serving older adults mean to you? What is the most meaningful or rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
  • What do you advocate for? What do you want public policy makers to know about the work you do?

Here’s a sneak peak at what we’ve already heard from some amazing caregivers:

  • Georgia Morphew at Northfield Hospital Long-Term Care Center says, “It’s one of those jobs where you need to bring not only your skills, but patience, empathy, kindness, respect, and love. So when they tell you they love your care, you know that is the greatest compliment.”
  • Valerie Heintz at Valley View Healthcare and Rehab says, “Their life stories are history books in the making. I get great pleasure out of learning about our folks, their past lives including the struggles and accomplishments. I find out about them as a person and not just a resident in a bed.”
  • Jenny Weber at Friendship Village in Bloomington says, “Do something that matters. Believe in the future by creating it first.”

If you work in the field of aging in Minnesota – whether you’re a nursing assistant, dietary specialist, housing manager, marketing specialist, administrator, director of nursing, housekeeping specialist – you are a Star Among Us.

The Stars Among Us campaign is for anyone and everyone who has dedicated their career to serving older adults. You do not need to work for an Aging Services of Minnesota member, you just need to proudly serve Minnesota seniors.

For a little added fun, all Stars Among Us entries received by February 10th will be eligible to win a FREE iPad2.

Tell us your story today – and please spread the word.

The Stars Among Us deserve to be in the spotlight, don’t you agree?

If you spend any time on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve probably seen mentions of various reports confirming that indeed, older adults are taking the world of social media by storm.

Here are a few great reads that provide more detail on exactly how older adults are spending their time online – it’s fascinating stuff.

Pew Internet Survey of Adult Social Media Use:

  • 65% of online adults use social networking sites
  • 51% of those 50-64 and 33% of those age 65+ use social networking sites
  • In the past two years, social networking site use among internet users age 65 and older has grown 150%, from 13% in April 2009 to 33% in May 2011.
  • During this same time period, use by 50-64 year-old internet users doubled – from 25% to 51%.
  • Among the Boomer-aged segment of internet users ages 50-64, use of social networks on a typical day grew a rigorous 60% compared to one year ago.

Nielson State of the Media: The Social Networking Report:

  • Internet users over the age of 55 are driving the growth of social networking through the Mobile internet.
  • Over twice as many people aged 55+ visit social networking sites on their mobile phone than last year – a 109% increase in one year.

So it’s well-documented that older adults are embracing social media. That has all kinds of implications for aging – how well-connected we remain with friends and family, access to health and wellness resources online, engagement with virtual communities of people who share our interests and experiences as we age.

What does this mean for older adult service providers? Without hard data, it’s hard to tell, but it does seem as though the provider community is a bit behind when it comes to embracing the opportunities of social media to connect and engage with clients, residents, family members and the broader community.

That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of providers using social media in really interesting ways – they just don’t seem to be the majority. Part of the challenge likely is the fact that despite its rapid growth among older adults in the past few years, use of social media is still a fairly new phenomenon among this age group.

Social media is also a really important and effective way to connect with the next generation of the aging services workforce. Increasingly, access to professional networks, peer relationships, mentoring and continuing education happens online, often via social networking channels. In fact, the Nielson report confirms that more Americans visit Facebook while online than any other single web-based brand.

A few questions I’d love to know more about from you:

  1. Do you, your staff or your clients and residents use social media? If so, how? And what has been the result?
  2. If you don’t use social media to engage with residents and other community members, why not? Are there barriers or reasons you don’t?
  3. Are there any great examples out there that could inspire others? Your own approach or something you’ve heard about? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

And in case all of the data and reports aren’t enough to convince you that seniors are online in record numbers – have a look (and a laugh) for yourself: http://bit.ly/ni687f.

In honor of Labor Day this week, it’s only fitting to take a few moments to acknowledge the men and women who dedicate their lives and careers to caring for older adults – those who choose this path as a profession, and those who are called to become caregivers when their loved ones need them.

It’s also fitting that this week a nationwide report gave Minnesota high marks as a leader in providing care and services for older adults. A lot of factors must be in place to ensure a strong system of care and support for seniors – good information, access to a range of support services and care settings, flexibility and innovation in how services are delivered and public policies and investments to keep our system strong.

However, even with all of these elements in place, there is one thing that rises to the very top: the front-line caregivers – paid and unpaid – who provide daily care and support for our loved ones.

For those who are not direct caregivers, it’s easy to lose sight of what it really means to care for someone who can no longer take care of themselves. What it means to help with the most intimate daily activities of bathing, dressing and eating, or tending to complex medical needs. It’s physically demanding. It’s emotionally draining. It can be very stressful and sometimes frustrating.

And yet – it’s one of the most rewarding and honorable positions in our health care system. Despite the demands of this role, I’ve heard countless caregivers say the reason they’ve built a career in this field is because it is an honor to be there for someone when they really need it. To provide encouragement and empowerment to help someone else achieve their goals and truly live their life to the very end.

At the Aging Services board meeting earlier this summer, Dan Dixon, president and CEO of Guardian Angels of Elk River, provided a reflection that opened up our first day of work. He talked of volunteering in his own hospice program. One day, after visiting the same man for many weeks, something happened – as Dan was leaving the room after a short visit, the man called out to him. He asked if Dan would sit and say a prayer with him. In that moment near the end of this man’s life, Dan said he was reminded of the powerful impact caregivers have on those they serve.

In some of the most challenging times of our lives, caregivers have the honor of providing support, encouragement, comfort and happiness. This week, we honor those people and thank you for the difference you make every day!

Is there a caregiver you’d like to honor? Tell us about them in the comments section. Better yet – nominate them for an Aging Services Award!

A recent Washington Post article highlights the variety of ways communities across the country are adjusting to meet the changing needs of an aging population.

What I love about this article is not just that it addresses the practical realities that come with an older population, but that it also provides great insight into how broad and far-reaching the impacts of aging really are.

Many of us focus on the immediate family decisions and stresses that come along with an aging loved one – decisions about whether or when to seek additional support, move out of a life-long home, or directly address end-of-life issues.

But what about the less obvious challenges – and opportunities – of aging? For example:

  •  The need for new transportation options to accommodate active seniors who want to shop and socialize the way they used to, but no longer drive themselves.
  • In Minnesota, we’ll soon have more people aged 65+ than kids in school – that will bring some challenges, but what about the amazing resource at our fingertips? How are we engaging older Minnesotans to help teach our kids or support and volunteer in schools?

What else? Is your community doing anything unique to meet the needs of an aging population? Are there opportunities we’re missing?

It would be great to hear from city planners, first responders and other city officials if you’re working on anything on this particular topic…

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Aging matters to all of us.

This blog will address the issues, questions, challenges and opportunities that surface as we work to meet the demands of an aging population.

It’s also a place to highlight the people and organizations whose passion, creativity and commitment are shaping the future of older adult services in Minnesota.

Everyone has a story about how aging impacts their life – we hope you’ll join the conversation and share your story.

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