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From personal protective equipment and new technology to labor costs, senior living providers throughout the industry are contending with growing expenses responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Even seemingly straightforward operational adjustments can some with outsized and in some cases unexpected new costs. A look at how Kisco Senior Living altered its dining service provides one striking example of the logistical and financial challenges that Covid-19 presents, and how providers are finding ways to curb new expenses by making strategic investments.

The Carlsbad, California-based owner and operator recently spent $100,000 on eco-friendly, reusable dining containers for room service meals for its residents that is proving immediate and long-term dividends beyond balance sheets, Director of Dining Services Randall Lozona told Senior Housing News.

Kisco’s portfolio includes 20 communities in California, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, Utah and Virginia. The operator originally switched to disposable plates, cups and utensils when it secured it implemented in-room dining for its residents last month, but at a cost of over $170,000 per month, Lozona said.

All of that used product creates waste, and Kisco estimates that it was producing more than 3,000 cubic feet of additional waste every day. That is enough to fill 4,000 bathtubs per week. The operator saw a 30% increase in paper supply orders. It also added more waste collection capacity across its portfolio, at a cost of $2,500 per month.

The idea for switching to eco-friendly containers came from staff at Abbotswood at Irving Park, a Kisco community in Greensboro, North Carolina. The containers are free of bisephanol A (BPA), capable of withstanding commercial microwave oven usage and industrial washing machines, and come with snappable sealed lids that maintain temperature and prevent spillage, allowing residents to eat hot meals instead of food cooling in styrofoam, since room service takes longer than dining room service.

Before committing to the purchase, Kisco tested samples to the breaking point to determine that these containers were as good as advertised, Lozona told SHN.

“I said, ‘Let’s try to basically destroy these, overheat them, put them in microwaves past the recommended time.’ Once we did that and saw how they held up, we went ahead [with purchasing the containers],” he said.

The purchase included three containers of each type – three-compartment serving, side dish/dessert, and soup container – for each resident. This was done because Kisco did not want to be caught with shortages, like it did with PPE, and scrambling for supplies as stay at home orders continue for weeks.

“We wanted to have a solution in place that if disposables were to be out of stock, because all restaurants and all pretty much all senior living communities are on 100% disposables at this time,” Lozona said.

The containers were rolled out across Kisco’s portfolio last week and are expected to pay for themselves within two weeks. The reusables will not be used by every resident, however. Those who have tested positive for Covid-19 will still be served meals in disposable containers, served by associates in full PPE. To date, residents at two Kisco communities in California and two in North Carolina have tested positive for coronavirus.

So far, the response to the new containers is promising.

“We started to get initial feedback, especially around the food remaining hot. The quality is being maintained. Just having hot food show up hot at your door was a big [advantage],” Lozona said.