National Hospital Week – Honoring Our Food Services Department

May 10-16, 2020, celebrates National Hospital Week. Southcoast Health honors both our clinical and non-clinical staff. At Southcoast Health, we believe the power of food contributes to healing our community. In turn, we share gratitude to our Food Service Department for boosting the physical and emotional health of our patients, staff, and visitors.

Food service operations at Southcoast have undergone quite a few changes in the past several weeks to adjust to the impact of COVID-19.

On the patient services side, a switch to disposable items accompanying meals sent to patients with COVID-19 and patients under investigation was made for safety and infection control purposes; utensils, plates, cups and trays do not return to the kitchen, significantly reducing the potential spread of the virus throughout the hospital. Patients order meals over the phone vs. face to face with Food & Nutrition Services staff. Nurses now deliver meals to patients on precautions, reducing the number of people entering patient rooms.

On the retail side, much has changed in the cafeterias and at the coffee shops and kiosks. Shields have been installed, tape put down on floors, cash register lines re-configured and tables spaced apart – all to promote social distancing and keep traffic moving quickly and safely. The salad bars, soup stations and delis were closed weeks ago at all three cafeterias, as was the popular yogurt and fruit bar at breakfast. Items such as soup and pizza were switched from self-serve to being served by the food service staff. But these changes haven’t stood in the way of maintaining great customer service.

“We took a step back, listened to our customers and got creative in how to offer attractive meals and food, but in a different way,” says Robbin Sadlers, Retail Manager at Charlton Memorial. “For instance, we now offer a larger line of to-go items, especially salads. We developed two protein-rich all-vegetarian salads with ingredients such as hummus, kidney beans and chickpeas for our large population of vegetarian customers. We have also offered some popular items such as a taco salad, chicken bowl and turkey quinoa stuffed pepper.”

“In the mornings, we put out pre-made fruit cups – pineapple cups, cantaloupe cups – fruits in vibrant colors that people love. We’ve brought back some of the home-style meals and comfort foods that people enjoy like French meat pie, mac & cheese and shepherd’s pie.” Sadlers also says that they are continuing to run as many of the Choose Healthy HQ meals as possible. Basil lemon chicken, southwestern flank steak, panko cod and the very popular African American Heritage month special, Spicy Tunisian Grilled Chicken have all been a big hit.

“The culinary staff wants to make people happy, so we’re always listening to what customers are telling us. Whenever we can’t do something one way, the retail staff work hard to find an alternative way. They’re always offering new ideas.”

Sadlers says hospital employees are buying more to-go items to bring home. “Our prices are very reasonable, and we offer convenience. It’s a big help to hospital staff not to have to go home and cook after working all day or night. On Fridays, we’ve increased the number of quarts of chowder we’re making. People are taking them home.”

The cafeteria also strives to be a brief sanctuary for staff. “A place where people can take a break, watch a little TV, have a great meal and take their minds off work for a little while,” Sadlers says.

However, despite new menu offerings and a more robust take-out business, food service sales have decreased. Regrettably, because of visitation restrictions and employees working from home, the volume is down about 65% at our cafeterias, coffee shops and kiosks, and the business center cafeteria has been closed, according to Mike Cunningham, Executive Director of Food & Nutrition Services. But he and the department staff want everyone to know that the cafeterias are open and serving healthy, tasty meals at fair prices.

“We still operate 5 am to midnight seven days a week across the locations that are still open,” Cunningham says.

Despite the challenges, the hospital cafeterias remain ready to serve. Just last week, because of the generosity of a group of physicians, Southcoast offered discounted meals over several days and for one night each hospital offered a complimentary midnight meal to the night staff.

“We served 4,605 discounted and midnight meals that week,” Cunningham says. “The night staff were overwhelmingly appreciative – not just of the food, but also that Renee Clark, Jackie Somerville, Tonya Johnson and the Associate Chief Nursing Officers were there serving and welcoming them.”
The special meal program was great as well for morale all around, including the Food Services staff, who have more than met the challenge they’ve faced during the past few months. “We’ve had to make do with fewer employees on the job, so the remaining staff are all doing more; and they are doing different work than they were previously,” Cunningham says. “They’ve had to be creative, and they’ve worked hard.”

Food & Nutrition Services is critical to every hospital and continues unabated at Southcoast during this pandemic because of our employees. “Everybody still needs to eat – both patients and staff,” says Courtney Shea, Director of Clinical Nutrition. “Our staff have been flexible and committed. They all work hard; they all show up every day. In times like this, they really step up.”