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HIGHLIGHTS | Food for thought

  • UW Medical Center Food and Nutrition Services helps feed staff and patients.
  • During COVID-19, they have increased sanitation and implemented social distancing.
  • They are also adapting recipes and delivery methods for patients with COVID-19.
  • Here, managers share their experiences and their kudos.

On any given day, UW Medical Center’s Food and Nutrition Services will feed countless hungry staff members who are on a much-deserved break. Their team also creates and delivers individualized dishes to meet inpatients’ unique nutrition needs and offers some comfort in the form of a warm meal to anxious or grieving visitors.

“Food to me is the time we can relax and forget and enjoy. It’s a time when people can let their guard down — even in high-stress situations,” says Zack Cross, Food and Retail Services manager at UW Medical Center – Montlake.

From behind-the-scenes jobs like reviewing recipes and ordering produce to technical tasks like creating nutrition labels and programming the cash register (not to mention all those dishes), the entire team works to keep providers, patients and the greater community fed and healthy.

In the era of COVID-19, this means rapidly adjusting to meet the needs of the hospital staff and patients.

Food and Nutrition Services team in masks in the kitchen

Adapting to the pandemic

The team is roughly composed of two branches: the retail side, which includes the cafes and espresso stands, and the patient food management side, which includes inpatient nutrition and food delivery as well as outpatient consults.

Over the past few weeks, the retail team has transitioned the hospital’s cafes to serve grab-and-go-style food and removed any self-serve options, like the salad bar and self-serve pastries. Sanitation practices have increased, and signage and blue painter’s tape mark where customers should stand to maintain their distance.

As for the patient nutrition side, dietitians are determining how to get more protein to patients who are on ventilators and need higher calorie counts because of their medications. The team has also implemented procedures to deliver food to patients in isolation rooms. Meal ambassadors traverse new routes to avoid potentially contaminated areas of the hospital and bring disposable trays to designated carts. From there, nurses in personal protective equipment will deliver the meals to patients.

“Our team has been able to step up and flex and handle pretty immediate changes. We have a great staff that works hard. They really do put patients first,” says Mary Jo Meyer, Patient Food Service manager at UW Medical Center – Northwest.

Sharing experiences and appreciation

Managers on both the retail and patient side of the Food and Nutrition Services teams at Montlake and Northwest share challenges, coping techniques and kudos.

Robin Kaeo

Manager of Retail Food Services; 20 years with UW Medicine

What has been challenging?

“Social distancing in the cafe has been difficult as it’s a very narrow space. Being hypervigilant with hand-washing, being careful not to touch door handles, not touching one’s face and avoiding as much contact as possible with others requires concerted and purposeful effort.”

How are you coping?

“I have two cats that I adore, they are a great de-stressor. I help manage the Starbucks at Northwest and my cats, Willow and Sumatra, are named after Starbucks coffee blends.”

Message to your team?

“My retail staff has been amazing. They’ve really taken on the challenge as this has all happened. We all pick each other up as we see we need to.”

Mary Jo Meyer

Patient Food Service Manager at Northwest; 14 years with UW Medicine

What has been challenging?

“Our challenge through COVID is making sure we are doing our very best to feed patients, adequately meeting their nutritional needs while incorporating preferred foods and tolerated textures to promote recovery. For us, the vital part of all this is that patients aren’t going to get better unless they get fed.”

What do you love about your job?

“I really love helping patients and helping others.”

Message to your team?

“Our team is great. I always think about how the staff could have said, ‘no way, I’m not working in this,’ but they stepped up and they are doing the work.”

Zack Cross

Food and Retail Services manager at Montlake; 5.5 years with UW Medicine

How are you coping?

“I’m playing with my kids a lot. My son is 3 and he helped me wash the dishes the other night. The counter was covered in water, the floor was covered in water. He was happy and content. I’m focusing on those moments of joy.”

What do you love about your job?

“I love food. I could spend every waking hour in a kitchen producing food and talking about food and making food. It’s that balance of technical and artistic.”

Message to your team?

“It always impresses me how much people band together to get the job done. We never thought we would live through something like this, so it’s been a big challenge for all of the staff, just being prepared to do this. They’ve all been incredibly brave.”

Alysun Deckert

Clinical Manager for Nutrition Services at Montlake; 27 years with UW Medicine

What has been challenging?

“One of the challenges is maintaining social distancing. There are a lot of rooms we can’t go into to conserve PPE; we are doing most of our visits with patients over the phone.”

How are you coping?

“I think that community is a big thing. We have a group with transplant recipients that usually trains for a half marathon together. I’m trying to connect with them on Saturdays and have them send me pictures. We are going to try to do a virtual 5K together.”

Message to your team?

“I feel very fortunate to be in a system like UW Medicine. I feel like we are in a place where we can trust our leadership, and I feel really fortunate to be a part of this team.”

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