World-class medical center Cleveland Clinic has gotten a lot of attention in the news over the years, with famously outspoken former CEO Toby Cosgrove outlawing fast food years before the rest of the nation woke up to the fact that food and health are linked. In 2015 he booted McDonald’s from the Clinic’s food court.
The spotlight was on again last July, when Morrison Healthcare became the contract foodservice provider for the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus and Children’s Rehabilitation Center, which had been run by Sodexo since 2015.
More than 300 employees had been through a handful of changes in management companies over the years, and, “when that happens, people lose faith and trust and energy,” says Nick Romagnano, vice president of operations with Morrison Healthcare.
That meant that staff engagement was a top priority when Morrison moved in July 1 of last year. Reports in The Plain Dealer indicate Morrison’s average hourly pay is higher than that of Sodexo ($10.04 is the average hourly wage of a Morrison foodservice worker and $9.80 is the average hourly pay of a Sodexo foodservice worker), so staff have been happier in that aspect as well, Romagnano says.
Staff meals are now included with every shift. In addition, safety shoes and uniforms have been provided, a touch that brings engagement into focus from an appearance standpoint. Morrison immediately set up a “command center” in the clinic, where employees could ask questions during the switch and directly interact with the Morrison staff brought in to set up operations. A new system of digital shared documents further keeps everyone in the loop.
“When you transition any business, you bring in support,” Romagnano says. “In general, it’s one or two people and they stay for about week.”
But for a big transition like this, Morrison brought in 70 corporate chefs, managers and specialists to put into place retail and patient menus, special diet menus, concepts and plans for the future. Most stayed for about three months. It took hundreds—if not thousands—of hours to “take Sodexo’s diets out and put ours in to make sure there were no hiccups in the database when we switched over,” Romagnano says.
More than six months later, six people from the transition team are still at the Clinic. Five nights a week, rather than venturing out for dinner on their own, the team gathered around a dinner buffet in the hotel, going over what went well that day and what didn’t, in a relaxed environment with beer and wine in a spirit of collaboration.
Seeing initial results in guest and staff attitudes
Six months in, Romagnano has started to see some quantifiable measures. For one, Press-Ganey patient satisfaction scores that hospitals rely on for funding and reimbursement, have actually gone up during the transition—a lot.
“Typically, in many transitions, patient scores usually go down, but a few months in, there’s been no downtick in scores,” Romagnano says. “Actually, we’re up six points. Statistically, if you move up one or two points per year, you’re doing something right.”
In terms of the push for better employee engagement, the turnover rate for employees had been between 50 and 60 percent, but it’s now less than 20 percent, Romagnano says.
He attributes this to new training programs (more than 5,000 hours of training total per month in dietetics, culinary and safety) and the enthusiastic involvement of new Executive Chef Josh Ingraham, formerly chef for the Cleveland Indians with Delaware North.
“Josh has been a perfect fit for the clinic,” Romagnano says. “He’s known for his focus on wellness and when we first met, he said, ‘All this is amazing. This is what I want to do. I want to change the face of healthcare dining.’ He’s stressing that people live their best life. We’re here to help people heal; we’re here to help people get better.”
Stressing the mission, in turn, gets more employee buy-in.
“When the staff has that access to the chef and access to managers, that leads to a more positive work environment,” Romagnano says. “We’re getting that excitement here.”
Morrison’s biggest project at the Clinic right now is transitioning the patient side to a room service model, a pilot that’s taken a lot of planning so far. Fourteen mini kitchens or pantries throughout the hospital are being outfitted for equipment and vents. On-demand ordering from iPads will allow for an accommodating menu without dayparts for patients wanting “pancakes any time of day” and anything else from the menu (within their dietary needs of course), Romagnano says.
Morrison’s portfolio of special diet recipes has been coming into play for this. Just before the transition, a hospital spokeswoman told The Plain Dealer, “patients at our main campus represent those with the highest acuity in the nation, which requires complicated foodservice operations to meet their special dietary needs.”