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The True Value of Healthcare Foodservice Workers

The True Value of Healthcare Foodservice Workers

By John Price, Senior Director of Food & Nutrition, Hartford Hospital

You’d think healthcare foodservice workers would go unnoticed as they perform their daily duties. Most work is done in the kitchen and behind the scenes to help feed thousands of people in a hospital every day. That’s far from the case. 

I often receive heartfelt notes from family members of patients and others that let us know how important their work is. Following a recent visit to our hospital, here’s a note from a family member of a patient about Deb Cannon, one of our lead food service associates, at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn.:

“Deb, I’m so appreciative of the kindness you displayed to me and my family in the cafeteria Saturday night. You were so engaging–commenting on our three generations of family members you were helping.

You took extra time to help look for a specific item that night while we were buying food–and although you couldn’t find it, despite how many boxes you looked for in back, you found a very similar lemon dessert that you brought up yourself on Sunday to my family. Those caring touches are all it takes for people to take notice of true compassion.”

It’s notes like these that make me proud to celebrate our people and their contributions as part of Healthcare Foodservice Workers Week from Oct. 6-12.

Chefs and dietitians usually come to mind when someone thinks about healthcare and food. But, of the approximately 200 food and nutrition associates at our hospital, most of them do other work to ensure patients are nourished and hydrated so they can recover from any illness and return to a normal life.

These associates do a variety of jobs; they clean pots, pans and trays in the kitchen; monitor instructions from nurses to make certain each patient gets the right meal to fit their diets and assists the culinary team in producing food in a timely manner for patients and guests.

These jobs don’t seem difficult until the scale of any healthcare foodservice operation is considered. At Hartford Hospital, we serve approximately 800 patients each day, with roughly one-third of them discharged daily to make room for new patients. We serve another 4,000 meals daily to family members, medical staff and other visitors.

As the note about Deb Cannon points out, our associates understand they work in a unique environment. Food can help heal a person’s body and improve their mental outlook. It can also bring comfort to a family member worried about a loved one.

This means we must find and hire the right people. I always look for someone who really cares about the work that we do. For example, I recently hired a man that has cared for his family since he was a teenager. His aging mother now needs care, so he’s juggling a job and making sure her needs are met. These are the kinds of people we know will care for our patients.

To accomplish this goal, we make patient safety our top priority. This starts with getting each meal order accurate, putting the right food on the right tray and delivering it to the patient in a timely and friendly way. Again, this work sounds easy – but we often face challenges to make it work.

For example, our workers record patient meal orders on an iPad and relay those to the kitchen staff. Nurses often want to take a patient’s blood sugar levels within 30 minutes of eating, so we need to deliver our food on time. And if a patient is going to physical therapy right after their meal, we need to deliver their food so they have time to eat and digest before physical therapy. Making sure we deliver the food at the right time for 800 patients every day takes some work.

We also need to adapt to any unusual obstacles. For example, if the iPad has a glitch, we need to quickly take orders with paper and pencil and get them to the cooks. If there is a shortage of a particular fruit or vegetable, the diets of many patients could be affected, which requires a substitute on the fly.

Training is Critical

New healthcare foodservice workers are cross-trained to do a variety of tasks, from delivering food to patients, to help get proper meals on trays. Each usually finds a different route to a job that may lead to a career. If a person has worked in customer service before joining Morrison, they may be a good fit to work in a retail café. Once they find a job they enjoy, they are on a career path that works for them and the organization. 

Other new associates enjoy delivering meals and speaking with patients. If they perform well, they may be promoted to an office position overseeing hundreds of meal orders each day. These associates are the first line of defense to ensure that there is a correct menu and order for each patient, as well as any special diets set up for doctors and nurses.

Healthcare foodservice workers help just about everyone you see in a hospital daily. They provide a service to hospital employees to recharge so they can get back to caring for our patients. 

Please take a moment this week and join me in celebrating their service. 

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