Bon Appetit

Delicious meals are turning up in an unlikely place these days.

WCA Hospital recently began implementing a hotel-style room service option for patients who are admitted for a stay at the facility. The option, which comes at no additional charge, offers a multitude of options for breakfast, lunch and dinner for patients.

“Our room service program empowers patients to order what they want, when they want it, in accordance with medical dietary orders, and is an important component of our patients’ nutritional care and overall hospital experience,” said Betsy Wright, president and CEO of WCA Hospital. “The introduction of room service at WCA Hospital enhances our approach to high-quality nutrition care, excellent food choices and exceptional service, while maintaining our commitment to setting the highest standard of patient care excellence for everyone we serve.”

According to Christina Reynolds, director of hospitality services at WCA Hospital, the new program was chosen because the traditional assembly line-style of food delivery was no longer serving patients with a level of excellence that the hospital found to be acceptable.

“We chose to go to the room service program because the traditional way just didn’t work for patients anymore,” said Reynolds. “They might have tests in the morning or they’re not there when the meal is delivered and it would end up getting cold. We chose this program because the patient can call down any time that they’re ready for their meal, and it’s in their room in less than 45 minutes from the time that they call in their order. Whenever they’re ready to eat, they can eat.”

Under the previous method, WCA purchased large amounts of pre-cooked, convenient food items because they fit into the assembly line-style of food service. The food was cooked before it went on the line and onto the trays, then it had to be cooked again once it got into the “re-therm” units that were used to heat it for patients. With the new room service program, everything is cooked to order from fresh ingredients, with no pre-cooked convenience items being used at all. Even bulk items, like meatloaf and gravies, are cooked fresh.

“I started here five years ago, and I’ve been trying to get this started since I was hired,” said Reynolds. “I worked at Hamot before I came here, and they had already incorporated a room service-style program. When I started here, I saw an opportunity to bring that same program here. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do it at that time, but about 18 months ago I was approached and asked if I wanted to begin that here.”

The first step that the hospital had to take, said Reynolds, was the installation of an entirely new computer system. WCA was beginning to use electronic health records and the original computer system was too outdated to sync properly with the new records. Once that hurdle was out of the way, Reynolds and her team began to work on building menu and recipes, which she said was roughly a six-month project by itself. The final task was reviewing foods from vendors and beginning to install all of the necessary equipment to make the new system run smoothly.

Chef manager Doug Landy said that the new system has already proven itself to be much more efficient than its predecessor.

“We never want to hear about ‘hospital food’ ever again,” said Landy. “We don’t have that stigma anymore. This is the trend worldwide now. It’s really cost-effective, and preparing fresh food every day is just so much better. Our kitchen is very efficient. We do small batches of everything and make it fresh all the time. It helps us with our food costs because we have such minimal waste. We put together the menu to cross-utilize the products, too.”

Reynolds echoed Landy’s sentiments, saying that roughly 90 percent of the plates that come back down to the kitchen have been picked clean.

“We just don’t see much food go to waste anymore,” said Reynolds. “The largest amount of waste that we’ve had since we started this program was a single pan of gravy. With the old system, there was probably eight pans of food that we would have to dump every single night. It’s going to add up to a significant cost savings over the long run.”

With items being made-to-order, it’s also much easier to modify meals for patients if it’s necessary under their dietary restrictions.

“Most of our patients, if they are on a modified diet, it’s because they have trouble chewing or swallowing, so they’ll be on a puree or dysphasia diet,” said Reynolds. “We do have a ‘heart-healthy’ diet, but 90 percent of the items on our menu are ‘heart-healthy’ already. We have a couple of foods that aren’t, like our macaroni and cheese or our ‘toasty dog’ (a hot dog smothered in cheese), but we have kids that are in this hospital, too. We want to be able to cater to everyone’s tastes.”

Although the menu doesn’t vary day to day, there are roughly 50 items that the patient can choose from. Even if a patient is in WCA for a week or more, they could have different meals every single day. New menu items include plenty of “comfort food,” too, with options like chicken and biscuits, personal pizzas, and more. Landy noted, however, that none of the food is ever fried, and the chefs even shy away from using ingredients like butter, opting instead for extra virgin olive oil.

“It’s all about our patients now,” said Reynolds. “In the past, our food service team has delivered meals at a time that was convenient for us. Now, we deliver meals at the time when it is more convenient for our patients. As a result, our patients are eating better. The new hotel-style dining experience is a part of our patient and family-centered care focus. Food is a very important part of the healing and recovery process for our patients and this gives them an opportunity to order what they want.”

According to Reynolds, if there are any patients that are unable to order on their own because they can’t speak or can’t use a phone, WCA will provide staff members to assist those patients in the ordering process to ensure that nobody ever misses a meal.

“I have such an incredibly talented team,” said Reynolds. “We could not be more proud to know that our new room service program has been very well received and patients are happy, and that we are meeting or exceeding their expectations.”