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HHS Culinary’s Dirk Noteboom has several populations in mind: the culinary staff, patients, visitors and whole communities where healthcare systems are operating full-speed ahead.

Stories from the front lines: HHS Culinary president shares his story of hospital cafes and patient trays during coronavirus

Dirk Noteboom says the HHS teams in place at its hospital locations have met the challenges by beefing up safety procedures already in place, providing awesome services like micro markets to healthcare workers and extending best practices beyond the workplace and into the community.

Hospitals and healthcare foodservice are unique during the coronavirus pandemic, as most are staying open in a relatively similar manner to what they had been doing, albeit with extra safety measures. Operators in this segment are also among the most optimistic about their ability to come out of this in one piece than other foodservice segments. 

That said, the challenges have still been pretty rough, says Dirk Noteboom, RD, HHS Culinary’s president of operations and clinical nutrition services. Based in Dallas, Noteboom is in constant contact with about 100 healthcare accounts, sharing best practices and updates on the coronavirus in real time in order to keep everyone in each hospital safe.

Dirk_Noteboom_2019.jpgPhoto: Dirk Noteboom, President of HHS Culinary.

Changes have included eliminating interactive dining features like the salad bar and chef’s table, but for the most part dining rooms have chugged along, serving medical workers, patients and visitors to the hospital. Social distancing rules are being followed, and HHS has turned some hospital cafés into mini markets stocked with essential items so busy hospital employees can skip a trip to the store. “Our people are truly dedicated to the service of others. It’s inspiring to see such compassion and care,” Noteboom says, “and it’s pushing me to do the best job I can to support them in the field.” Here’s his story:

“Overall, day-to-day operations have been impacted, but not as greatly as you might imagine. On the public-facing side of our service, we have eliminated all self-service options in order to protect our teams and the patrons utilizing our café services. This includes the elimination of our chef’s table, multiple entrées and sides at our hot station and salad bars. To support hospital employees during this time, we have increased our grab-and-go options and added some meals staff are able to take home and heat up for themselves and their family.

On the patient-facing side of our service, very little has changed. We continue to provide our full menu to our patients. There have been some service modifications on units where nursing may now deliver trays, but that is only done at the request of the nursing department. Our role is to serve our patients through nutritious and healthy food, as well as to continue to support nursing in their efforts to provide direct patient care.

Our team members, from our hourly team members to our managers and registered dietitians, have been amazing and are the backbone of our operations. During times of crisis, our teams in the past have always shown up to work and cared for our patients and partners. This crisis is no different, and team members continue to do a tremendous job day in and day out providing food and service to our patients, staff and doctors.

We’ve worked diligently with the supply chain to ensure we have all the proper food and supplies to keep our operations running and our patients and partners well fed. To date, we have not had any issues in our supply chain, and we don’t expect any to emerge. The supply chain for food is very strong in our country.

We’re in daily contact with infection prevention (IP) departments in each of our facilities and work closely with IP to determine what new best practices should be put in place to keep our teams safe beyond the measures we have already taken with PPE, handwashing, foaming in/out and proper social distancing. There are some new procedures being implemented, such as temperature screening when team members arrive at facilities, to help limit exposure to the potential virus, as well as limiting the number of non-hospital employees into the facilities.

If there are visitors in the hospital, they can purchase food in the café, and, of course, employees can also grab food and dine in. We have set tables a minimum of six feet apart to provide adequate social distancing. In general, and not necessarily related to food service, it is discouraging to see people not following social distancing and shelter-in-place protocols during this time. These critical procedures are essential and a major way to combat the virus.

We have done additional training on social distancing, PPE as well as hand washing with facts about COVID-19 in order to not only be safe at work, but also take this information and use it at home. We want our team members to be safe on the job as well as to be safe away from work when they are with their families.

We’ve set up mini marketplaces in our café operations as well, designed for hospital employees to grab essential items such as milk, water, juice, eggs, bread and toilet paper so they don’t have to leave work and go to a grocery store. We’ve found this is a huge help and appreciated by the staff as it saves them the time and effort at the end of a shift and reduces their exposure to the public.”

As told to Tara Fitzpatrick on April 2, 2020.

Contact Tara at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie

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