The COVID pandemic has challenged hospital meal providers to continue to offer quality, convenient foodservice while dealing with the restrictions and safety measures the pandemic has forced. For the five Methodist Hospitals in San Antonio it serves, Sodexo has stepped up with a series of solutions that alleviate some of the obstacles faced by busy staff to get nutritious food and streamline patient meal service while still providing satisfaction-boosting quality, choice and convenience.
Among those solutions are secure rooms located on COVID patient floors that contain snacks for staff who often find it difficult to get away to access the traditional foodservice outlets like the cafeteria during their breaks.
Modifying the room service model
Meanwhile, to alleviate the constant and unpredictable traffic generated by the existing room service patient meal program throughout the day, Sodexo has implemented a modified approach that delivers patient-ordered meals at one time to the floors at set times rather than the 45-minute delivery service for orders available all day previously.
“You still get to order whenever you want, but we release a zone—a floor in this case—at one time for delivery, so that way we still [provide the benefits of room service meal ordering] for our patient customers but streamline it better for both our staff and the nursing staff,” explains Sodexo Senior Project Manager Rene Marquez. “It also helps improve care for patients who need to take meds at specific times with food because we can work with nursing to find best time to deliver the meals for that floor. That way, nursing can dedicate themselves to handing out medications” in conjunction with the meal delivery rather than dealing with the sporadic meal deliveries generated by more traditional room service meal programs, which also tend to interrupt floor routine for the nursing staff.
The approach, which retains Sodexo’s pre-existing room service menu, also has benefits for patients, notes Sodexo Client Executive Darian Hewitt, because it means meals are produced and delivered at a preset time without snags or holdups that can compromise food quality.
“It has absolutely increased our patient satisfaction because they aren’t getting a cold meal due the difficulty of finding someone to pass the tray or other issues,” he suggests. “This approach has definitely streamlined the process and been a big plus for nursing, for our clinical folks, for our food/nutrition team—and our patients!”
Also, because it knows when a zone’s delivery will take place, the kitchen can make cook and assemble the meals for that delivery more efficiently, streamlining production operations and more effectively using the available labor.
Snacks for COVID staff
Meanwhile, the free snack program uses space in utility or conference rooms located on the floors with COVID-infected patients for the benefit of the staff working there “just to relive some of the added stress from the difficult jobs that they do,” Marquez explains.
“It has different grab and go snacks like ice cream, chips, cookies and beverages that directors [i.e., floor staff supervisors] have access to at specific times during the day,” he explains. “We partnered with some of our vendors who provided racks and refrigeration units. Security locks the door but the directors have access and they come in and grab what they need for that shift or that day for their staff. All we do is replenish.”
The ice cream and cookies are particular favorites, he notes.
Patient advocates answer questions
With visitation still being limited, even if somewhat looser than during the height of the pandemic, patients are getting some socialization from a patient advocate program Sodexo and Methodist health have set up. Originally implemented in the hardest-hit locations, it is now being expanded across the system and involves putting staffers on patient floors who actively interact with patients, taking and passing along feedback, taking and adjusting meal orders and offering a personalized form of patient meal service, including coming around afternoons with carts with coffee, hot broth, fresh cookies and other snack for patients whose diets allow them.
“The patient advocates are concierges capturing the feel for patient satisfaction in real time,” Marquez says. “We use Sodexo proprietary Experencia program to capture patient experience and look at trends in comments in real time so we can address issues quickly, before they show up on things like Press-Ganey scores.
“The advocates are very connected with the patients,” Hewitt adds. He cites the example of a dying patient who loved ice cream and asked for a last banana split. The advocate personally went to the kitchen to get it made specially and brought it up.
“You don’t get that kind of service just calling down and ordering a meal with room service,” he offers.
Photo credit: Sodexo
Photo: Patient advocates provide personalized service on the hospital floors, even bringing around afternoon coffee/snack carts for patients whose diets allow them.
Other ongoing initiatives include the implementing of mobile ordering of food from the café for staff.
“We have an app and are partnering with a vendor who already has a system set up where customers see the menu on the app, put in their orders and either pay online with a credit card or payroll deduction, or pay at the café when they pick up,” Marquez explains.
Hewitt is piloting it at Methodist Health’s Specialty & Transplant Hospital, “and then when all the kinks are worked out then we’ll move it out across the entire division,” he says.
The pandemic did require adjustments and added procedures in the retail dining areas, where things like sensor-based no-touch condiment dispensers and single-item utensil dispensers are now used. Also, gloves and sani-wipes were placed at serving stations so that customers can sanitize tables themselves if they wish, even though the staff already meticulously does that after each customer.
The traditional self-serve salad bar is gone for now, replaced by packaged grab and go salads, but Sodexo put in a topping bar customers can use to customize their salads.
“We believe one thing that makes a good salad bar is all the different topping that help you customize your salad,” Marquez comments. “We wanted to keep that as much as possible under the circumstance.”