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Rutgers Dining Expands Into Hospital, K-12 Segments

Merger with medical school led to expanded responsibilities to oversee dining in behavioral health institution.

Rutgers University Dining Services operates foodservice for the university’s main campus in New Brunswick, which has an enrollment of some 47,000 students, with over 17,800 of them living on campus. That’s a huge responsibility in and of itself, but when Rutgers merged last year with the former University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, it also took on an operation called the University Behavioral Health Center (UBHC) and the Rutgers dining department consequently found itself with some new and unfamiliar responsibilities.

While taking on management of two retail cafes in the medical school was no big deal as they were similar to the retail operations at the university, the new responsibilities also included the operation of foodservices at UBHC, which includes a hospital with 24 adult and 24 child/adolescent beds.

“There’s a big difference working in the healthcare environment and it’s the first time we’ve done something like that,” says Peggy Policastro, who oversees the nutritional aspects of dining services at UBHC for Rutgers Dining Services. She is also on the faculty of the Dept. of Nutritional Sciences at the Rutgers Schools of Environmental & Biological Sciences.

“It’s a lot more stringent when you’re dealing with a healthcare institution and the different regulations that are involved because unlike a cash operation or a university dining hall, now you’re looking at the Joint Commission, at regulations and at modified diets,” Policastro offers. “We have to follow all the regulations of charting the nutritional quality of everything that’s being served, so this is a whole new ballgame for Dining Services.”

If the hospital weren’t enough, UBHC also has an onsite K-12 therapeutic day school with room for up to 57 students. The responsibilities extend beyond just preparing school meals for a wide age range (students from 4 to 21). “Our dietitian conducts nutrition education classes there to help the school satisfy their health class requirements,” Policastro says. “So we have to deal not just with healthcare requirements but school requirements as well.”

Policastro is part of the new dining service management staff at UBHC (dining had been handled by an outside contractor before Rutgers took it over) that brings healthcare segment experience to the task. She had a background in clinical dietetics, having come to Rutgers from St. Peter’s Medical Center in New Brunswick three years earlier, while the manager of the UBHC dining unit came from Robert Wood Johnson and the staff dietitian interned at Beth Israel in Boston.

Conversely, management by Rutgers has positively impacted dining at UBHC and the medical school, with the retail operations receiving freshly made grab and go items from the commissary on the Rutgers campus that also supplies the school’s retail locations.

“Rutgers Dining makes some things in quantity for the cash operations, but a lot is also made at the healthcare facility where we have a cook and a full production kitchen, including a trayline,” Policastro says. “It’s a smaller scale version of what I worked with at St Peter’s, including a diet manual and so forth.”

The biggest changes for diners at UBHC are the increased use of fresh fruits and vegetables and having more meals prepared on site as opposed to the convenience items served before. “Those changes alone have increased nutrition quality just by reducing sodium,” Policastro says. In addition, a new patient dining menu with shorter cycles has added more fresh and seasonal selections while cutting down on dessert portions to promote nutrition. Policastro says the hospital is looking for automated solutions that would allow pre-orders closer to meal times and, eventually, a conversion to a modified room service approach.

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