The 820-bed facility began using the extended menu last year, as well as room-service style food delivery so patients get what they want when they want it. Previously, they would select from one or two entrees and the food would be delivered to everyone at the same time. That meant many patients got cold food, or food they simply didn't want. Today, all the food orders are tracked by bar codes much the way hospitals track medications.
Food costs at the hospital fell by $400,000 in the first year of its “restaurant delivery” system because items not served to patients during peak meal periods are sent to hospital cafeterias to avoid waste.
“It’s been a game changer for us,” said Angelo Mojica, director of food and nutrition services at UNC. He said patient satisfaction scores, which he tracks every day on a television monitor in the kitchen, have soared to 99 percentile. He parses those ratings by hospital floor and even by type of room -- private or semi-private. Like doctors, food service managers, including Mojica, make daily “rounds” to talk to patients about their dining needs and preferences.
Patients call in their orders and speak to a food service representative located just off the main kitchen who ensures they stay within dietary restrictions, such as limited salt or calories. “A heart patient may get the fried chicken for lunch, but we tell them they may only get a salad for dinner,” he said.
At 11 a.m., just before the lunch rush is set to begin, Mojica is in the main kitchen to sample a well-done burger and chicken with pineapple and red pepper. A few minutes later, he heads upstairs to another kitchen, where he samples calzones stuffed with sausage and cooked-from-scratch chicken noodle and black bean soups. As a worker nearby prepares balls of dough, Mojica tries the pizza. Next, he’s in the smaller cafeteria mainly used by staff to try a plate of Machaca -- braised beef simmered in a chipotle broth. If he doesn't like something, he tells his cooks to change it or pull it from the menu. Today, he gives everything a thumbs-up.
Behind the scenes, UNC has installed a sous-vide cooking system, often used in fine restaurants, which cooks food in airtight plastic submerged in water baths to ensure food are cooked to the exact temperature. The system speeds delivery service since food is partly cooked and chefs can finish it on a grill after an order is placed.
UNC also rolls its own sushi. It bakes and sells its own “lower fat” cookies -- and includes directions to make them at home. And it sends new moms home with a fresh-cooked meal for the entire family.
Patients notice the difference. “I look forward to meals here and that’s the bottom line,” said Greg Vitak, 49, of Raleigh while in a bed at UNC fighting an infection. He was about to eat a pizza covered with pepperoni, onion and mushrooms.
Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communications organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.