COVID-19 Pushes More Residential Behavioral Health Providers to Outsource Dining Services

A growing number of residential behavioral health providers are outsourcing their dining services, according to Karen White, director of marketing at Culinary Services Group.

“We’ve seen a large uptick probably within the past year,” White told Behavioral Health Business. “A lot of these organizations are seeing the benefit of having somebody … that can develop customized menus and really cater to the needs of residents.”

Founded in 2008, Culinary Services Group serves fresh, restaurant-quality food to senior living providers and other health care communities. Its mission is to offer better food at an affordable price, ultimately helping providers deliver better outcomes. Today, the company has between 50 and 60 clients across 12 states and counting.


About 7.5% of Culinary Services Group’s business currently falls into the behavioral health space, according to White, with its most agreement in the space being a food management contract with United Methodist Family Services in Richmond, Virginia. Its behavioral health clients range from rehabs and psychiatric care facilities to youth- and senior-focused programs.

Culinary Services Group has three different models: full service, where it runs providers’ entire dietary department; management and procurement, where it handles everything except hiring and recruiting hourly dining staff for providers; and management only, where it helps providers support and train already employed dining staff.

The majority of the company’s behavioral health clients use the full service model, according to Scott Alme, vice president of business development at Culinary Services Group.


He said the behavioral health dining outsourcing trend has been a long time coming. Amid the pandemic, many providers realized they just don’t have the bandwidth to offer quality dining options to their patients in addition to providing clinical care, he said.

“What we found to be really unique with behavioral health communities and their dietary requirements is that there’s clearly an impact on [patient’s] recovery, behavior and overall well being,” Alme told BHB. “Food is such an important component.”

Studies have shown that diets higher in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains and seafood are associated with a lower risk of depression. In fact, that risk is about 25% to 35% lower than for diets that contain more meat, dairy and processed food.

In addition to those factors, White said another reason behavioral health facilities are outsourcing dining is to differentiate themselves from competitors, especially in the substance use disorder (SUD) treatment space.

“Specialty clinicians and counselors really help [behavioral health] clients recover,” Alme said. “Well, imagine if you found someone who was equally a specialist in dining that can really kind of drive that entire recovery program. There’s help out there for you.”

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