Even at a young age, Leslie Shipp has always felt comfortable managing complex operations. When attending Michigan State University to get her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics, she worked as a student supervisor, overseeing some students working in the college’s library.
Now, as a Regional Director of Operations at Morrison Healthcare, her decades of experience in foodservice operations have paid off for patients and hospitals during the COVID-19 crisis.
“It was my responsibility to coach our directors through all of the uncertainty,” she says. “The crisis has tested all of us, but I emphasized to them that it was important to remain calm and focused so that our frontline team remains calm and focused.”
“During all of these months, we haven’t had one director falter. They’ve come to work every day, doing their best to serve our patients and guests healthy, nutritious meals.”
Simultaneously, Leslie has been empathic to her associate’s needs, especially those frontline workers.
“There have been times when the anxiety got the best of the frontline teams and the management teams,” she said. If they needed to speak with a counselor, she ensured her team connected with the Employee Assistance Program.
Leslie is also proud of individuals who have shown extraordinary kindness during the pandemic. She points to dietitian Samaria Grandberry, who grew up on a family farm near Memphis and has been selling fresh fruit and vegetables grown at the farm and donating the proceeds.
Leslie has recognized several managers with SPOT Awards and nominated frontline workers with GEM Awards to show her appreciation for everyone’s hard work during these unusual times.
In addition, she sent each director a package of steaks for their families. “Every day was a challenge. I wanted them to have one day where they didn’t have to work all day, then go home and worry about what to eat.”
Managing a Unique Set of Hospitals
A 19-year Morrison veteran, Leslie’s territory is unique. She oversees foodservice operations in the Tenet Health System at the Detroit Medical Center. But she also has responsibility for the Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, South Carolina, just south of Charlotte; St. Francis Hospital in Memphis and St. Francis Bartlett, which is northeast of Memphis.
Part of this geographic mix is that Morrison has been the foodservice provider for the two Tennessee hospitals and Detroit Medical Center for approximately one year. It was somewhat fortuitous that a veteran RDO was in place to oversee these facilities during this COVID-19 crisis.
While the geographic split has been challenging during the pandemic, Leslie has spent additional time serving each hospital.
“The virus eliminated a lot of travel, so most of my communication has been via email or phone for our hospitals in South Carolina and Tennessee. I’m here to support them and let them know I’m in contact with the Directors and guiding them and supporting them on a daily basis.”
Leslie has been an RDO for the past eight years. Her interest in foodservice is rooted in her parents’ emphasis on eating nutritious food. The family had a garden with fresh vegetables and her father, a hunter and fisherman, often caught fresh food in tributaries of the Detroit River.
After receiving her degree, Leslie worked as a clinical dietitian at HDS Inc, a small foodservice provider in Farmington Hills, Mich., just outside of Detroit. She also worked as a supervisor and soon moved into a director’s role, working there for more than 20 years before Morrison bought the company in 2006.
Morrison Healthcare opened up a world of opportunities for Leslie. “At first, there are always concerns that a new owner will mean fewer chances to move up,” she says. “But it turned out to be exactly the opposite situation.”
Taking the Reins
Not long after the acquisition, Leslie became a director of food and nutrition services at an acute care hospital. She was soon promoted to the system director and got her first RDO position in 2012. It was a major change, overseeing 14 hospitals in Ohio and Michigan, including seven parts of the Ohio Department of Mental Health.
While several training courses in leadership, finances and other topics helped prepare her for the job, she recalls trying to grasp the vast responsibility an RDO has in those first few weeks on the job.
“I remember thinking, ‘this isn’t what I expected.’ There was so much I had to learn. But I quickly realized there is a vast amount of resources at my fingertips I could leverage to find help and answers. As I started to navigate my way through our company, it all began to fall into place.”
Leslie’s skills earned her the Resident RDO position at Cleveland Clinic in 2017, where she worked for two years before taking on her current responsibilities.
As her hospitals continue to move toward normalcy while still handling COVID cases, Leslie is working hard to increase training for patient services managers and others interrupted during the crisis.
“We need to remember that we are serving thousands of patients daily and we want each one of them to be fed well and satisfied with their meals,” she says. “Training is critical for our managers to understand our processes, but most importantly, realize that we always put our patients first.”
In the meantime, she and her team will keep leading the way. “Everyone is working hard to keep the patients’ needs first and foremost and also being a source of strength. Our directors have good working relationships with our hospitals. We’ve proved it during this crisis, helping take care of their patients with minimal interruption in service.”