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Patients at Boston Children’s Hospital on COVID caution are served on disposable flatware and trays that don’t have to come back to the service department.

Stories from the front lines: Dining at Boston Children’s Hospital keeps to its healthcare mission

Retail sales and patient meal counts may be down, but the nutrition services team sticks to its motto that “All Our Jobs Help Kids Get Better.”

As the news of the coronavirus pandemic started spreading, Shawn Goldrick, patient support services director at Boston Children’s Hospital, took action. He knew he was going to need to staff up in case nutrition staff were unable to make it to work. He also quickly adjusted service styles and applied additional protection for employees working in the now-reduced dining locations. Here’s his story:

“Our hospital is following CDC guidelines, with surgeries being cancelled and a lot of ambulatory clinics as well, so our census is about 50% of what it normally is—instead of 400 beds filled at max capacity, we’re at 200 to 220. Meanwhile, our retail business is at about 25% of what we would normally do, not only because a lot of ambulatory and elective surgeries are down, but also because the hospital had already been following guidelines from early on about working from home, so there is a large percentage of workforce who aren’t here.

Our room service patient menus are unchanged for now. Patients on COVID caution are served on disposable flatware and trays that don’t have to come back to the service department, but that’s something that done with certain other illnesses as well.

0049-1.jpgPhoto: Shawn Goldrick, patient support services director at Boston Children’s Hospital.

On the retail side, because of the volume, we’ve minimized or reduced the hours of some of the stations. Chef’s Playground, Guilt Free Grill and the pizza station are the only active serving stations while all the salads and sandwiches are prepackaged to go.

We had started looking [early on] at the foodservice department and the high-touch self-service stations in the food court. Fortunately, back when we renovated it, we had eliminated the salad bar as the local department of health was asking hospitals to reduce self-service stations because of the reasons everyone is now experiencing. So that was tremendous and something didn’t have to worry about in our food court today with the coronavirus.

Of course, there are certain things we have changed [more recently], like the gravity dispensers for plasticware. We had the version where you have to touch a button to make the fork and spoon come out and we changed that. Also, we removed the seating in the food court so there’s no place to sit and it’s just a grab-and-go type set up.

We are also providing sanitizer to our cashiers and we’ve asked customers to scan their own items to minimize handoffs. We’ve also recently put up a plexiglass type sneeze-guard around where the cashiers are as an added layer of precaution, and everything is served prepackaged.

What [the reduced] volume of patients has allowed us to do is to put preparations in place. We’ve also been [adding extra] staffing in anticipation of staff getting sick and not being able to come to work. For that, we’ve been working with temp agencies we’ve worked with in the past to find people who could get employed in a healthcare facility because we can’t just bring people in and put them to work. They need to go through background checks and so forth.

So we’re actively adding and training extra employees in anticipation of our staff getting sick or if we get a sudden influx of patients and we’re hit with high volume—for example, what do we do if we need to start providing meals directly to nursing and staff on the units?

We’ve been getting a lot of donations from places like Stop & Shop bringing in meals for staff that the foodservice team is managing and we’re doing a lot of internal support by delivering these donated meals. That has been helpful because it gives the foodservice team room to get the training they need to staff up.

Now that we’re a point where we’re comfortable with the staffing levels we may potentially need, we’re now looking at what we can do in terms of take-home meals. We bought a Cryovac machine so we can put together take-home meals that can be held for a certain amount of time.

[For Easter, the department had created an a la carte menu featuring vegetable quiche, glazed ham, vegetable lasagna, rosemary Parmesan roasted potatoes, green bean casserole, roasted asparagus and strawberry cheesecake, designed to feed four to six people. They were available for pick up the previous Friday or Saturday by preorder.]

We’re also jotting down changes we’ll want to make as everything starts to get back to normal. For example, how do you apply social distancing in a kitchen setting, because we feel that is going to be the wave of the future.

We have a tremendous staff. Our slogan is, ‘All Our Jobs Help Kids Get Better,’ and from a support service perspective, whether it’s foodservice, housekeeping, security, parking, we look at it that you don’t have to be a nurse or doctor to help our patients.

I think being available to the staff allows them to feel supported, comfortable and I think right now we’re in a very good space relative to morale. Our vice president of support services, Henry Tomasuolo, regularly comes around our kitchens and food court asking how everyone is and showing his support. Remember, our staff is used to seeing 4,000 transactions a day through the food court and now they’re seeing maybe 800 and there’s no more seating, so it’s such an empty space, and it can get pretty discouraging.

So we make sure our staff know they are needed and their jobs are important. We have huddles, we have town hall meetings, constant communication. A good example is the plexiglass shields at the cashier stations. That suggestion came from one of the cashiers who asked if there was something we could do to keep the six feet social distancing. It shows we listen and care, but it all comes from years of building a positive culture.

We also share positive stories with the staff. For example, we had a great email to our foodservice director from one of the nurses saying, ‘I just want to say thank you to your team because it’s so great to get a sense of normalcy going down to the food court and seeing familiar faces during this challenging time.’ We reinforce that idea, that they’re providing comfort to the frontline nurses and physicians.

We’re also being very flexible. Hey, schools and daycares are closed, so we talk to our employees about their schedules—do they need to come in later, leave earlier, have to take a day off. All this ramping up we’re doing, bringing in temp agency staff and training them, allows us to have some flexibility in supporting the needs of our employees.”

As told to Mike Buzalka on March 31.

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