WORKING WITH AN AUSSIE ICON TO IMPROVE FOOD STANDARDS IN AGED CARE
“In a world where you can be anything, be kind,” are the inspiring words that Flinders University PhD candidate and accredited dietitian, Morgan Pankhurst, has chosen to live and work by.
Morgan’s drive to see change in the aged care sector was a major reason why she became inspired to undertake a PhD at Flinders, beginning in 2018.
An Associate Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at Flinders University, Morgan is passionate about improving the quality of food in aged care and giving residents a quality dining experience.
“The issue of malnutrition in aged care is not a new one and it can be managed in a multitude of ways,” she says.
“My motivation is the residents who spend the last few years of their lives in aged care homes.
“I want to see those years filled with good food and quality dining experiences.”
Already working as an accredited dietitian in the aged care sector, Morgan understood that she would have limited capacity to create change.
“I would be bound by many of the same barriers and limitations that other stakeholders encounter in the aged care food service system,” she says.
Good food and quality dining experiences are important for older people in residential aged care to maintain their health and wellbeing.
In 2015, the Flinders Nutrition and Dietetics department partnered with The Maggie Beer Foundation.
Morgan’s PhD has allowed her to develop strong ties with the foundation whose mission closely aligns with hers.
“I felt the best way to be an agent for change was to work on a project that could have a meaningful impact for all aged care homes across Australia, not just a select few,” Morgan says.
The Maggie Beer Foundation, established in 2014, is an organisation that aims to improve the quality of food for aged care homes and older Australians.
Led by Australian cooking queen Maggie Beer of the Barossa Valley, the foundation combines knowledge of the benefits of good food with industry research on how diet impacts wellbeing and neurological health. Its board includes health advisors, industry leaders, and researchers.
Morgan is determined to translate her research into action and working with The Maggie Beer Foundation has been invaluable in achieving that goal.
PhD candidate Morgan Pankhurst.
With the foundation, she has been able to create education modules for aged care chefs.
This has included working directly with Maggie and her team in Sydney to develop and film some of these modules.
“Working with the Maggie Beer Foundation has given me the opportunity to work directly with cooks and chefs in aged care,” Morgan says.
“This real-world application and/or translation of research into practice is what excites me the most.”
Morgan’s PhD research and partnership with The Maggie Beer Foundation has also allowed her to connect with aged care stakeholders, so that she can receive criticisms and feedback in real-time.
The findings of the PhD research have produced mixed results, with some areas doing well and others requiring improvement.
Many aged care homes are finding it difficult to measure how residents are responding to menu changes. With her research, Morgan wants to help solve this issue.
“My hope is that this research will help to demystify food service satisfaction and give homes the tools they need to measure change, most especially quality improvement,” she says.
“Meeting the challenges that research presents has developed my critical thinking, resilience, and creativity,” she says.
Morgan is passionate about the real-world applications of her research, and that is what both her PhD and working with aged care homes allow her to do.
The Nutrition and Dietetics unit at Flinders is providing Morgan with a rewarding work environment for her PhD.
“The thing I enjoy the most about doing a PhD at Flinders are my peers, mentors, and colleagues,” she says.
“The team culture is that when one of us rise, we all do, and as such there is an endless amount of support and encouragement.”
Despite her research achievements, Morgan says that there is still work to be done.
“There is certainly a lot more research to be done in improving the food service in aged care homes,” she says.
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