Like most other large institutions, Intermountain Healthcare, a healthcare system with 23 hospital facilities and five business support centers across Utah, has had to adapt to changes forced by the coronavirus, and its culinary services department has met the challenge with a number of initiatives that include incorporating idled caregivers—the system’s term for its staffers—from other system departments, adding more grab-and-go options and boxed lunches for quick service, and even introducing take-home prepared meals and meal kits for caregivers. It’s also looking into a possibility of meal delivery to discharged but at-risk patients.
With many non-essential activities and services curtailed, Intermountain has a significant number of its caregivers idled.
“They have been displaced from work and are still being paid, so we’re trying to deploy them to other areas where work is needed,” observes Robin Aufdenkampe, system director of food & nutrition services. “For example,” she says, “we were contacted by the ED [emergency department] at one hospital wanting to offer snack boxes to care for overworked caregivers and boost morale, but to prepare individual snack boxes for 23 EDs, we’d need to ramp up our production.”
And that’s where the extra help comes in.
“We have very smart, educated people sent home who’ve told us, ‘Hey, if you want me to come in and prepare meals, I’ll come in and prepare meals!’” Aufdenkampe says. “They’re still getting paid, but they also want to help.”
Photo: Idled caregivers (staffers) from other Intermountain Healthcare departments who agree to work in the culinary services department receive online training and get food handler licenses, and then are assigned to a manager who is responsible for their onboarding and further training.
Photo credit: Intermountain Healthcare
Of course, a hospital kitchen can’t just bring in individuals and put them to work without preparation. At Intermountain, the volunteer caregivers go through a two-hour online learning module and are assisted with securing food handler permits, then assigned to a manager who is responsible for their onboarding and their training.
Meanwhile, culinary services is working on making onsite meal service as convenient and appealing as possible, not only increasing production of grab-and-go sandwiches and salads since the cafés have been shuttered, and for caregivers on the run they are offering full take-home meals. They are working to ramp up production of meal kits to go and curbside service.
“People can arrive at café, go through the line and get it packed for home,” Aufdenkampe says. Next up may be a delivery option, she adds, that would allow nurse managers to call down to the café with meal orders for their teams, which would then be delivered in bulk up to the units. The system would be an extension of the meal order system for patients, she explains.
“We just have to code the system to include extra [delivery] locations, but it would avoid them having to come down to the café.”
Also being explored is a post-discharge meal program for high-risk patients, either in alliance with an established service like Meals on Wheels or by enlisting the services of idled hospital caregivers who can assist with the work.
In fact, if there is a bright side to the current situation, it is that it has forced the hospital to look at some of these initiatives as more than just vague ideas.
“We’ve been exploring implementation of these programs up for a while, but they kept getting put on the back burner,” Aufdenkampe observes. “This pandemic has actually accelerated conversations about the need for these programs and changed our focus for quicker implementation.”