SGMH in the News: Pleasing Patients, One Palate at a Time

San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital starts a room service program

Within 30 minutes from snapping your fingers or pressing a button you can have a healthy, hearty, even flavorful serving of “Vegetarian Chili,” or a “Crusted Grilled Tilapia,” maybe accompanied by some low sodium whipped potatoes, low-calorie egg twist noodles and steamed carrots.
You have a choice of breads, too: healthy choices of marble rye, squaw, wheat and sourdough; or, if you’re not too concerned about fat content, there’s always white bread and biscuits, too.
Not on the menu, however, would be caviar or wine.
After all, this isn’t a five-star restaurant, per se: it’s San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital, which has become very focused on the customer satisfaction of its patients.
Hospital employees and kitchen workers have been trained as of late in customer service, and they want to make sure patients who order room service – a program started this summer – are taken care of in a “SNAP,” their acronym that great service comes in a snap: meaning, with a Smile, Names (yours and theirs), Ask “Have we met all of your needs?” and Parting comment (“Take care”).
In his latest trip for a hospital visit as a patient, Ted Grady, of Banning, was not expecting gourmet.
“I was very surprised” at the quality of food selections suddenly available to him, he said.
“Compared to the last time I was here, the food was surprisingly very good. I took a chance and ordered meat loaf, which was one of my best meals. If you can make a meat loaf that’s up to my standards, then we’re in pretty good shape.”
Since the hospital changed management several months ago, the dietary department’s director, John Alcantar, has been advocating for a change in how patient satisfaction is accommodated.
“Freshness and appearance is key to gourmet food service,” Alcantar insists.
“Every entrée receives a garnish,” and, like a giddy school kid showing off the findings of a science experiment, points out what garnishes would go on which kinds of plates once they’re ordered.
Alcantar has every reason to be so proud of the hospital’s “new” direction : since he came aboard the hospital’s staff in 2001, he’d been pushing for a customer service-oriented program at the hospital.
And, finally, with the approval of the hospital’s recently changed management company, his ideas were approved and budgeted over the summer.
According to lead assistant chef Susan Sendjas, it has helped reduce wasteful spending, and wasted resources.
“Before, we use to have a menu we’d come up with each week, and everyone was served the same thing,” she said. “People who might not have wanted everything we’d given them, all that would be thrown out. Now, a lot more dishes are coming back pretty clean, because people order what they want.”
The hospital’s “room service” program is available from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and is complemented by a “tea tray” that goes around in between meals to each patient, offering them coffee, soda, juice even magazines, and is an opportunity for the hospital to stay in touch with patients, as hospital auxiliary volunteers who often push the tea trays to get a sense of how patients are doing.
“We do this at no cost to the patient,” Alcantar says. “The whole idea is to provide the best food service and nutrition care without extending their cost. The hospital’s standards for compassion and care are an important focus. Our food service staff is trained for room service, and practice everything from answering phones to accommodating needs efficiently.”
Barry Campbell, a food services and nutrition assistant, is one of a few staff who go around the hospital and offer to take orders from patients long before meal times.
She approaches on man with an IV in his arm and introduces herself.
“I’ve come to see if you’d like to order a lunch, or even dinner,” she says.
The patient, Todd Adkins, of Banning, seemed surprised that the option was there, and was shown the four-fold menu displayed on a tray near his bed, which depicts low-sodium, fat, sugar or calorie choices with a red heart next to the item.
“You’re not on any restrictions, so you can have anything on there,” Campbell says.
He asks her thoughts on a couple of menu items and picks one.
“Want some vegetables to go with that? Maybe some stir-fried vegetables?” she asks. He picks corn, and soda to drink. Then she offers to take a dinner order in advance. He selects a chicken pot pie.
“I guess I should have vegetables, huh?” he says, and picks potatoes. She offers dessert. “Gosh, I shouldn’t eat so much.” After debating between – and passing up – ice cream or sherbet, he sticks with just having a soda to go with dinner.
Campbell’s role, and others in her position, are significant: not only is she giving chefs a heads-up of what patients will want before the mad rush of room service calls at meal times, but Campbell is also another face for patients to see when nurses might not immediately be nearby. Patients can ask questions and inform her if they have other needs related to their stay at the hospital, medically or otherwise.
Registered dietician Jean Kielhold arranges customized menus for patients based on their nutritional needs, and is available to offer nutrition education on diet and well-being.
“We can come up with a menu that alerts them as to what’s appropriate for the patient,” she says. “Diabetics need restricted carbohydrates; heart patients need restricted sodium diets, and those with kidney disease need to avoid too much potassium, phosphates or sodium.”
The renewed focus on patient satisfaction, especially when it comes to pleasing palates, has had noticeable results, according to Gayle Freude, director of the medical/surgical unit, and house supervisor Tracie Hudson.
“Every level of care is concerned about correcting and dissatisfaction,” Hudson said. “We get lots of compliments on the food, which is not often heard of in a hospital.”
According to Freude, “It’s a primary goal of the entire hospital, that we’re united in our commitment to being the safest and best hospital in the whole state”
As she finished a shift at the hospital recently, registered nurse Carrie Echols shared her thoughts” “about three or four patients who’ve been to the hospital before said that this time it ‘feels different,’ or, ‘I don’t understand why people tell others not to come to this hospital – I’d come back here in a minute.”
In the kitchen, where chefs are busy preparing for the lunch rush of the cafeteria – as well as the anticipated room service calls from patients – a phone with a “distinctive ring” digitally chatters.
“Hear that?” Alcantar says excitedly. “That’s one of the three rings, and that ring specifically lets us know that someone’s calling for room service.”
One phone on the wall, and other portable phone clipped to chef Sendjas’s apron ring simultaneously. Assistant Campbell answers the one on the wall so Sendjas can continue food preparation.
“I’ve worked in many facilities most of my life,” Alcantar says. “My expertise is in developing gourmet food service. We’ve been pushing for this for so long, and now – finally – I have a management team that supports our idea. Culinary is my passion. I’m very excited, and I want to share that enthusiasm and the commitment of our hospital in providing the best for patients to the community.”

Published Monday, October 31, 2011

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