Situated on 24 acres near Ft. Myers, FL, is a massive 250,000-sq.ft. complex operated by a healthcare cooperative called LeeSar. Opened last year, it was designed to provide its independent health system partners and clients with lowered costs through cooperative purchasing, repackaging/distribution and other centralized services such as surgical instrument repair and sterilization.
It includes a pharmaceuticals repack operation, a central sterile processing operation and warehousing that stocks some 3,000 different medical/surgical SKUs and breaks down bulk shipments into custom surgical packs for shipment to the various client hospital sites.
Part of the complex houses Culinary Solutions, a central food production operation that can potentially generate some 40,000 meals a day at peak. Launched only six months ago, Culinary Solutions currently generates 12,000-15,000 meals a day for the Lee Memorial Health System, a 1,600-bed health network that includes four acute care facilities as well as a long-term care facility, a children’s hospital and a rehab hospital.
Lee Memorial was one of the two original partners in LeeSar, the other being Sarasota Memorial Health System. They have since been joined by the Central Florida Health Alliance and Huntsville (AL) Health System Hospital.
The central facility in Ft. Myers was built on the site of a vacated hospital and was chosen as a convenient central location from which the various partner systems could be served. It also provided the area with a new employer that replaces the hospital, which had left a business vacuum in Lee County.
While Culinary Solutions currently serves only Lee Memorial (and some small outside catering clients) with centralized meal production services, the LeeSar alliance through its cooperative purchasing arm (Cooperative Services of Florida) benefits all members with cooperative purchasing of products ranging from pharmaceuticals and gauze to food.
The LeeSar complex stocks some 3,000 medical/surgical SKUs and can facilitate special orders as required.
For the food end, there is a common prime vendor for all co-op partners.
“All of our food contracts are consolidated for all the partners and negotiated on that basis,” says Larry Altier, system director of food & nutrition services at Lee Memorial. “So they get the purchasing value whether they buy food from Culinary Solutions or not.”
He adds that the other partners may begin to utilize Culinary Solutions for food production at some point based on added value.
Meanwhile, the operation supplies Lee Memorial and its foodservice clients with bulk products like soups and sauces, packaged grab-and-go items and hot and cold plated patient meals. The clients include a Regional Cancer Center, an adjacent business complex with a site population of around 300 and a local food bank.
Altier says Lee Memorial is currently in the midst of evaluating its order guides and production schedules to determine which additional items might better be produced through Culinary Solutions. Currently, Culinary Solutions supplies only about 35% of Lee Memorial’s total meal production needs.
Also in the planning stages is a discharge meal planning program to support pre-admission and post-discharge patients with therapeutic meals specifically customized to their conditions. These would be delivered to their homes either by Culinary Solutions or an outside delivery service.
"At the least it would support the mission of the hospital to reduce readmissions,” Altier says.
Looking for Efficiency
He explains that the decision to use an offsite facility for at least some production came from an analysis of Lee Memorial’s needs. That indicated renovations at the hospital sites to boost production needs to the required levels would have cost up to $850 a sq.ft. assuming they could have secured the needed additional footprint space. The LeeSar Culinary Solutions facility cost less than a third of that.
Culinary Solutions operates in a 38,000-sq.ft. space inside the LeeSar complex that includes high-production cook-chill kettles for soups and sauces, a 750-lb. cook tank for proteins and a high-volume production line for producing packaged grab-and-go items. It also has a full bakery, other conventional cooking equipment and an 80-seat café for the onsite staff and to serve as a test kitchen for potential new products.
The facility meets or exceeds USDA’s standards for commercial food production and is overseen by a food safety/quality assurance manager who has a PhD in microbiology.
The building itself is designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane while supporting a 10-hospital system for 14 days with no resupply.